Epic Gumdrop Ep 9: Choosing a Role-Playing Game


This episode of Epic Gumdrop we ask the question: so, I want to play a Role-Playing Game – where do I begin?

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In deciding to play an RPG there are a few immediate barriers.

Choice is overwhelming. RPGGEEK.com lists:

  • 171 systems
  • 72 genres
  • 228 families
  • 2453 series
  • 5152 RPGs


  • Vocabulary is foreign. Charisma? Skill check?
  • OGL?
  • various d systems?


  • RPGs inhabit a complex world, foreboding to the uninitiated and often uninviting to the casual gamer.
  • Systems undergo constant evolution. Because developers/marketing people seem to be speaking to the initiated there is an RPG as a Second Language (RPGSL) barrier.
  • The process becomes one of elimination. Let’s look at some filters we can use to narrow our choice down:


  • Fantasy
  • Sci-fi
  • Contemporary
  • Historical
  • 1 Billion years in the future
  • Erotic
  • Generic systems


  • Dice, cards or other randomizing system?
  • Tabletop or Live Action RPG?

Of course I had no idea how many RPG systems there were out there when I started looking. It became a process of looking at some of the big ones and thinking about what seemed appealing and easy to use. This list is really rudimentary and there are plenty missing. These are some varied systems, over the course of the RPG’s evolution, that were big enough to catch the eye.

Dungeons and Dragons

  • published by TSR (1974), designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
  • system for the Fantasy genre
  • d20 system
  • by its 30 anniversary in 1994 the BBC notes “ An estimated 20 million people worldwide have played D&D since it was created, with more than $1bn spent on game equipment and books.”

Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system

  • published by Chaosium (1980), designed by Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis
  • generic system
  • utilized d100 instead of d20. Same core set of attributes like D&D but d100 made it more like a simulation
  • used for Call of Cthulhu

Hero System

  • published by Hero Games, designed by Steven S. Long (1989, used prior in superhero’s RPG Champions)
  • games using this system seem to be superhero oriented, but it is listed as a universal system
  • d6 system. Players use points from a pool to define character abilities, etc
  • still used for Champions

GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System)

  • published by Steve Jackson Games (1986), designed by Steve Jackson
  • generic theme, points system similar to Hero System
  • seems like a highly flexible system, with a robust list of publications. Too overwhelming, in many ways for a novice

OGL (Open Game License)

  • published by Wizards of the Coast in 2000
  • it licenses the Systems Reference Document (SRD), which is the reference role-playing game mechanics based on D&D. This means the basic rules and mechanics of the d20 system from D&D version 3-3.5 were open for use.
  • WotC indicates they weren’t making money on expansion books so they licensed the core system so other publishers would publish books for their system. This would reduce competition to the core system and ease pressure on WotC.
  • in 2008 4th edition D&D introduced the Game Systems License (GSL) which many felt were more restrictive. Some publishers (Paizo) stuck with D&D 3.5 and the less restrictive license.

There are now too many systems to consider for a beginner. So let’s go through the choices.

1. Tabletop RPG or Live Action? Tabletop.
2. Dice or cards? Indifferent. Dice give me more options.
3. Theme? Indifferent, at least for now.
4. Ease of use? Go with big publisher who aims their product at newcomers.
5. Family friendly? I will eventually be playing this with my kids.


Rather than looking at specific brands or streams of books, I want to play something that is easy to use out of the box and will get me going. Looking at the market, this seems to suggest going back to D&D, presumably 5th edition, or going with the Pathfinder RPG. After looking at reviews of Pathfinder, it seems like a great system for a novice. Cardboard characters (no plastic minis!), easy instructions, and I will quickly be able to play this with my family. I look forward to reporting on our experience with it!


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