If I were to run an RPG today, these games would be at the top of my list.
I’ve written about this before. Briefly, Glorantha is a mostly-bronze-age setting, ready for mythic heroes (think Conan and Gilgamesh, rather than Aragorn and the Grey Mouser). It was the setting for RuneQuest, back in the Day; the HeroQuest system is more suitable for narrative-focused heroic deeds. The game and setting focus strongly on the characters’ community, and favor compelling narratives over a simulation of the game world.
A standard campaign frame would be players as members of a freedom-loving clan oppressed by the occupying forces of the Lunar Empire, protecting their relatives and perhaps eventually helping the clans to break free of their shackles. (There are literally hundreds of other possible frames, though — a picaresque adventure around the oceans? inquisitors rooting out heresy among the religious hierarchs? Lunar missionaries trying to bring the Red Goddess’s enlightenment to the barbaric hill tribes?)
King Arthur Pendragon and The Great Pendragon Campaign
Though Glorantha is better-known, Greg Stafford considered Pendragon to be his masterpiece. Characters are knights — specifically, starting as newly-knighted vassals in Salisbury. Together with the Diana Jones-winning The Great Pendragon Campaign, they start late in the reign of Uther, fighting the Saxon invasion, with their sons and grandsons supporting the rise of Arthur and perhaps winning a seat at the Round Table, ultimately ending with the fall of Camelot. Intriguingly, the game compresses hundreds of years of medieval time into 80 years of game time; at a rough rate of one adventure per year (and per game session), that might be about four years of gaming. The campaign could stay close to Mallory, or could veer off and spend most of its time in enchanted Brittany, or crusading, or, who knows, supporting Mordred’s rebellion or something.
Edited, Feb. 2020: Having now read The Great Pendragon Campaign in full, I’m a little less interested in running it. The source material is full of barely-examined, toxic masculinity, veering over the line into misogyny more than once. Some of that could be cut out of the campaign, or at least examined, with some effort. But at a certain point it becomes something altogether different, and then why not just start from scratch? I could be convinced to play this, but it’s not near the top of my list right now.
Night’s Black Agents and The Dracula Dossier
The elevator pitch for Night’s Black Agents is “like The Bourne Identity, but the evil conspiracy is vampires”. The characters are highly-competent spies who’ve been burned by their agency, either before or after they discover the vampires. The premise of The Dracula Dossier campaign is that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an obfuscated after-action report of when a secret group within the British spy agencies tried to recruit Dracula, to their regret, and now a successor group is trying to do the same thing again. Guns, chases, hiding from coopted security services, and staking vampires.
Over the Edge
Over the Edge is a modern-day game set on Al Amarja, a tiny island dictatorship in the Mediterranean, or perhaps off the coast of northwestern Africa. The island is awash in occult and conspiratorial High Weirdness; a typical campaign frame brings the characters to the island from somewhere slightly more normal (e.g. the United States) to pursue ideosyncratic goals of power, enlightenment, or the like. The game strongly supports an improvisational sandbox style of play.
The Yellow King
- In Belle Époque Paris, characters run across the mysterious, reality-bending play about the ruler of Carcosa.
- In an alternate mid-century European war, characters try to survive the nightmares of war and of the Carcosan invaders fueling it.
- Immediately after the overthrow of the Carcosa-backed imperial dynasty in America, characters try to rebuild a society from the ashes of the dictatorship.
- In something resembling today, characters discover cracks in reality and have to find a way to close them for good.
And, in each period, the characters are echoes of those in the other periods.
Bonus games I’d run or play
- Ars Magica is always fun, though maybe I just want to make an elaborate spreadsheet for improving a covenant and its magi over the seasons.
- Hillfolk, or rather any series using its DramaSystem rules engine. DramaSystem is meant to produce stories of interpersonal conflict like The Sopranos.
- Reign is another fantasy RPG with a focus on community and consequences, though more traditional than HeroQuest.
- Unknown Armies, like Over the Edge, is about occult conpsiracies, but with a slightly different focus: the price the characters are willing to pay for power.
- I’d totally play in a D&D (5e) game, though I don’t know that I need to run one.
- Probably-shorter games: Alas Vegas, Dialect, Good Society.
- Actually, I’m probably up for playing anything. These are just the ones that have passed through my mind lately.