RPG settings that really fascinate you, even if you will probably never run them

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Torque2100

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So I was browsing DriveThruRPG and I found a little something for free.

Septimus.jpg

I am a huge fan of Science Fiction. In fact I've often been more of a science fiction than fantasy RPGS.

Septimus is built on a foundation of really cool ideas. The core concept of the setting sounds like incredible fun: the world of Septimus is contained within a Dyson Sphere built by an unknown and presumably long vanished alien race. This place was discovered by a vast, interstellar human Empire and once Hyperspace started to break down the Dyson Sphere became a kind of spaceborne bomb shelter for people fleeing the collapse of the Empire. So now you have Trillions of refugees flooding into this enclosed Solar system and a powerful faction of Posthumans called the Extent trying to take over all of Septimus while various other factions fight over who will rule Septimus. The inside of the Dyson Sphere as well being almost entirely unexplored and easily the size of millions of Earths giving near limitless opportunity for adventure.

In concept, Septimus sounds like more fun than a shotgun barrel full of monkeys. It's rare to see a high concept Sci-Fi setting which also has plenty of space for the sort of swashbuckling space adventure you might see in Star Wars or Firefly. Seeing as this is a D6 system, that's a combination that's like peanut butter and chocolate.

It's too bad this was WEG's swan song and you can tell. The execution leaves a lot to be desired. Vital pieces of information are missing. There's this event 25 years earlier called the "Steel Helix Attack" that supposedly caused widespread devastation but the game never tells you what it actually was. Likewise a lot of the concepts in the world just don't mesh well. They tried to go for a kind of Transhumanist setting with body backup drives but the "Steel Helix" is supposed to have made being resurrected a dangerous process that makes you vulnerable to "the Corruption" (Which is possibly related to Steel Helix, but again the game never tells you). It also succumbs to a trope that I noticed was very common in RPGs from the mid-late 2000's: eliminate currency, make buying items is a Difficulty check and then justify it by writing "POST SCARCITY" and "NANOTECHNOLOGY" over and over.

That in particular is something that has never sat well with me. If someone lives in a Post-Scarcity society, it's really hard to motivate characters to undertake adventures. It works in Star Trek but that's because Federation society places a tremendous value on self-improvement and learning. Septimus' Extent on the other hand is very much a "bread and circuses" society where most people (Proles) spend their days lounging around eating free food, doing free drugs and watching gladiators fight to the death.

So if I ever do run this, I'll make some changes to the setting rather than run it RAW:

-Change the name to something more thematically appropriate. This Dyson Sphere is, as far as anyone knows, the last bastion of human civilization. Maybe something like "Sanctum" would make more sense.
-Make the Hyperspace travel (that no longer works) dependent on Wormholes or Jumpgates. I've found I prefer this as in my experience, it's the only method of FTL that doesn't completely break space battles.
-Move the timeline ahead. Sanctum's last contact with the outside galaxy was over a century ago. The Jumpgate has sat abandoned in space. As far as the inhabitants of Sanctum know, they are all that's left.
-Radically change or get rid of the Steel Helix. Instead limits on really advanced technology can easily be explained as the Extant and other major factions having a monopoly on advanced tech especially Nanotechnology and Body Transference. Most of the people who would have arrived at Sanctum were desperate refugees fleeing from the collapse of civilization and the permanent isolation of their homeworlds. This can easily explain how technology has stagnated or regressed, and who doesn't like a little class envy? It also has the added benefit of allowing the bad guys to really motivate their legions of Not Stormtroopers. Immortality is one hell of a carrot to get dangled in front of you.

Overall I do like Septimus' ideas. It's a fun variation on the tropes of classic Space Opera with a self-contained setting. It's sad that this was the death rattle for West End games. I would like to have seen some more drafts of this game and some additions like a Mecha construction system. The book is missing a LOT. There's no rogue's gallery or bestiary of monsters to throw at your players. However, being a D6 game it would be plenty easy to just plug in monsters and baddies from the Star Wars D6 RPG.

I can really appreciate a Space Opera setting that maintains a sense of scale. Sci-Fi writers often forget just how FREAKIN BIG Space is. A single solar system, much less a single planet is PLENTY of space for an entire campaign.
 
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ffilz

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Talislanta and Tekumel might fit in this category, though I have tried to run them (though not with original game systems, Cold Iron for both, also GURPS for Talislanta). Outside of that, I don't know. I don't follow posting streams that tend to talk about new stuff (or old stuff for that matter) close enough to get a real feel for settings outside of my familiarity. I did purchase Yoon Suin on the recommendation of someone and then eventually tried to run it. In the past, I have been through episodes of purchasing shiny new things, often faster than I could ever hope to even run a demo of, or in some cases even read. I bought lots of Traveller 4 stuff and I think at least some Traveller New Era stuff and never read more than a few pages of any of it. These days, with my purchasing power more limited, I am very stingy with what I purchase so I have to have at least some expectation of actually wanting to run it, or at least use it as a serious reference. I guess Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 1st edition is one purchase I've made (both bundles of holding) without a clear plan to run it (I had acquired it back in my days of buying lots of shiny stuff, then sold it all off for a bargain price). But it could well land as something I would give a serious run at, and it's hard to pass up purchasing an entire game line for dimes on the dollar.
 

Simlasa

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I've got a few...
One is Anima: Beyond Fantasy... which is kind of a silly name... but I'm drawn in by the baroque setting and rules. It's pretty much aimed at Final Fantasy in its aesthetic. The rules are crunchy but don't put me off the way some (Pathfinder) do. I've been studying it for a while, taking notes... with no real intent to run it as is, but to try to grok what it is that attracts me and maybe turn it toward a system I already know. It's odd that it seems to suggest, on one hand, VERY high powered characters and adventures... but then turns around and recommends making low level PCs and keeping it all within base human ranges. Strangely written and weirdly arranged... it's a conundrum I must solve.

Another is Cadwallon's setting of Aarklash... which has been host to several different types of games, including a card game, skirmish wargame, big army wargame, and a video game. I always describe it as WFRP mixed with old school Walt Disney fantasy. It's bright and colorful but has some seriously dark patches as well... and a good dose of comedy.
I've only tested the official rules for one short test battle... but I have run a couple of short campaigns in the setting, using B/X D&D and Magic World.

Another big favorite is The Whispering Vault, which often gets described as 'Clive Barker's Superfriends'. I ran a couple of games of it waaaaaay back when I first got it, which went OK... but I continue to be intrigued by the setting as a whole, in various implications and possibilities the game itself never got around to exploring much. Nowadays I don't think I'd use it with PCs as the Stalkers (think good guy Cenobites)... keep it human instead, at least to start.

Anima (2).jpg Aberration-1.jpg Sky_Worm.jpg
 
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Fenris-77

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Troika for sure. The setting is right up my alley, but I can't see running it anytime soon, sadly.
 

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Demon: The Descent.

I love the alien tensions that the premise creates with its powerfully inhuman fallen angels trying to understand feeble mortals in order to bring down a cold unfeeling god. I dig the Doom-style merging of demonic imagery and technology. I think the use of spy-thriller trappings is much more interesting (dare I say "realistic"?) than the usual baroque hidden society tropes.

Too bad the system is too intricate, character creation would be a slog, and my feeble brain isn't very good at challenging high-power characters.

It also turns out that "you're Jason Bourne but also a cyberdemon" is surprisingly niche in its appeal to potential players. Guess they'd all rather just be drow or vampires again.
 

Black Leaf

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Nightbane. I actually love the "take the worst stereotypes about White Wolf gaming and make them a selling point" vibe, but I just can't see myself ever running Palladium system ever again.
 

Savage Schemer

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The Third Imperium. I come close to running a game in it every so often, but inevitably roll my own setting or pull one out of the moth balls and run that instead.
 

Nobby-W

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The Third Imperium. I come close to running a game in it every so often, but inevitably roll my own setting or pull one out of the moth balls and run that instead.
I think that the 3I is more of a meta-setting than something directly usable in a RPG. You could characterise the Spinward Marches as a setting as it's concrete enough to use, although still far from being a zero-prep campaign pack. So much of the published 3I material is at the level of what battle happened where and who succeeded who on the throne. It's the product of collective pontifications of some historians and strategic wargamers and sits a couple of degrees of separation away from anything relevant to a bunch of yobs in a free trader.

There is plenty of useful stuff in the published Traveller material but it tends to be more in the nature of piecemeal items like individual aliens, starships, patrons and so forth. The mentality of the design was very much a toolbox to support building a couple of subsectors and kicking off your own campaign. You can certainly pick a few subsectors from The Traveller Map and flesh them out into something but the Imperium itself is more of a notional backdrop than something concrete that you can pick up and run. From that perspective, the 3I itself doesn't really matter a great deal. You can have some subsectors for your campaign that just happen to be in the 3I, or they could be in your own 'verse, and it wouldn't materially affect the game.

This is less true of modern material, though. Mongoose have gone further by publishing campaign packs like Pirates of Drinax, which is usable without much additional prep.
 
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TristramEvans

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Mechanical Dream

2674416._SX318_.jpg

Characters reside in the world of the dual world of Kaïnas and Naakinis, a 30,000 mile disk lit by a sun-like orb called the Pendulum. This disk is surrounded by the Sofe, a 40-mile-tall wall of black ether that few, if any, have ever returned from. Kaïnas (the rational world) and Naakinis (the mythic world) exist with overlapping topography and ecosystems. Flora and fauna of Kainas are scaled normally by real-world standards, while Naakinis exists on a much larger scale (such as the "Kioux" trees that reach many miles in height). In general, the word "Kaïnas" denotes the disk illuminated by the Pendulum, but "Naakinis" extends further and includes whatever lies in and beyond the Sofe.

The Pendulum spends roughly ten of each day's thirty hours beyond the Sofe, creating night-like darkness. During this time, a phenomenon called "The Dream" manifests, becoming stronger as less and less light permeates Kaïnas. The Dream is a fabulous and dangerous world that overlaps with reality. It is initially hazy and hallucinatory, becoming as solid as reality during the darkest parts of the night. Areas where the Pendulum does not shine are affected by permanent manifestations of the Dream.

The Aran world is a separate existence, accessible only in places the Pendulums' light cannot reach (underground or deep underwater). It is fiercely primordial, rejecting inorganic matter and operating by rules entirely different from reality. The creatures inhabiting Aran are unpredictable and poorly understood.

The vast majority of the setting's population depends on the weekly consumption of the orpee fruit to survive. Without orpee, a rapid and excruciating death is guaranteed. Orpee naturally concentrates a life-force called "eflow" that fuels life. The politics and economics of Kaïnas are primarily driven by the collection and distribution of orpee, as it is an absolute requirement for life.

Ten intelligent races inhabit Kaïnas.

Emovan: Aquatic craftsmen with a strongly collectivist society.
Frilin: An intellectual plant-based race who do not require orpee to survive.
Gnath: A highly rational people who are the driving force behind modernization.
Inaïs: The only race able to harvest orpee, who live as passionate ascetics.
Nayan: A deeply passionate and charismatic race driven by a powerful martyrdom complex.
Odwoane: A diminutive race of mimicking laborers who instinctively gather and act in groups.
Solek: A race that emerged from the Sofe, characterized by their silence and efficiency
Volkoï: A race bred for war and physically dependent on a constant flow of adrenaline.
Yaki: A collection of tightly-knit nomadic tribes with a strong understanding of the Dream.
Zïn: Extremely rare, solitary beings who carry within them a volatile Aran entity.

The heroes of Kaïnas are called Echoes. Able to harness eflow to produce miraculous effect using their "Gifts," they are also able to gain information and insight through a "Whisper," the so-called voice of eflow that speaks to each Echo.
 

Dyson Logos

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jorune-small.jpg

Jorune.

It feels like an attempt at an accessible version of Tekumel. Instead of being lost to interstellar civilization for 300,000 years or more, it's only (?!?!!?) been a few tens of thousands of years. The societies are slightly less alien to the D&D gamer, there's a lot less use of local language in the text... It has a GREAT excuse for megadungeons (the natives of the planet had massive underground cities to not disrupt the beauty of the surface, and they abandoned these when pressed by humanity), and it has skyrealms with pseudoscience to explain why they fly which also explains why there is magic on Jorune but not in the rest of civilized space.

And then the magic is represented almost entirely be people "HADOUKEN!" ing balls of magic energy at each other. :|

The setting is in a state of change (like Tekumel) - in this case one polity has discovered a cache of ancient weapons and this is going to change everything so everyone else is scrambling to catch up.
 

TristramEvans

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I wrote a revised version of the rulebook for the designer almost 20 years ago, which included an intro scenario that I ran a number of times. TBH the setting was easier to play than the mechanics :smile:


Did it ever get published? I never saw anything for the game except the original boxed set, it seemed like it was there one day and then just disappeared
 

Nobby-W

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[ . . . ]
The setting is in a state of change (like Tekumel) - in this case one polity has discovered a cache of ancient weapons and this is going to change everything so everyone else is scrambling to catch up.
I think this is an underappreciated trope. A lot of fantasy societies are presented 'as is', a more-or-less stable state of affairs until the big bad shows up and threatens the status quo. However, many things are transient. The wild west lasted two decades or so from the end of the Civil War and was pretty much over by the 1890s. There are plenty of other historical periods that lasted a few decades or one or two centuries with a lot of change in flux, followed by a period of relative stability that nobody cares about because it's boring.

Changing periods let you have power vacuums, conflict, lawless areas, things still in development, abandoned artifacts of the old era and interesting things that happened within living memory.
 
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Baulderstone

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I've got a few...
One is Anima: Beyond Fantasy... which is kind of a silly name... but I'm drawn in by the baroque setting and rules. It's pretty much aimed at Final Fantasy in its aesthetic. The rules are crunchy but don't put me off the way some (Pathfinder) do. I've been studying it for a while, taking notes... with no real intent to run it as is, but to try to grok what it is that attracts me and maybe turn it toward a system I already know. It's odd that it seems to suggest, on one hand, VERY high powered characters and adventures... but then turns around and recommends making low level PCs and keeping it all within base human ranges. Strangely written and weirdly arranged... it's a conundrum I must solve.
I've played that before. The setting was intriguing, but the long combat just put me to sleep. It didn't help that we faced opponents with paralysis as an attack, followed by opponents with mind control. The system was slow enough without either losing half your turns or having the GM take them for you. It was also a video chat game, which makes combat run even slower.

It was a shame, as I would have been interested in playing more if not for the system.

Another big favorite is The Whispering Vault, which often gets described as 'Clive Barker's Superfriends'. I ran a couple of games of it waaaaaay back when I first got it, which went OK... but I continue to be intrigued by the setting as a whole, in various implications and possibilities the game itself never got around to exploring much. Nowadays I don't think I'd use it with PCs as the Stalkers (think good guy Cenobites)... keep it human instead, at least to start.
That's on my list of games that I wish I'd given a shot before selling it in a game purge.
I think that the 3I is more of a meta-setting than something directly usable in a RPG.
I think it is helpful to remember that the Third Imperium was originally meant as an example of play in the original LBBs. It only got expanded over time due to demand.
I think this is an underappreciated trope. A lot of fantasy societies are presented 'as is', a more-or-less stable state of affairs until the big bad shows up and threatens the status quo. However, many things are transient. The wild west lasted two decades or so from the end of the Civil War and was pretty much over by the 1890s. There are plenty of other historical periods that lasted a few decades or one or two centuries with a lot of change in flux, followed by a period of relative stability that nobody cares about because it's boring.

Changing periods let you have power vacuums, conflict, lawless areas, things still in development, abandoned artifacts of the old era and interesting things that happened within living memory.
This is the problem that a lot of published RPG settings run into. They want to be eternal IPs, which often means they aren't designed in a way which lets the PCs make big changes. That's something I like about a lot of the Savage Worlds Plot Point Campaigns. They are one-and-done settings with the expectation that the players will actually deal with the central conflict of the setting. 50 Fathoms is set in a world that is slowly drowning, but you can find a way to stop that. Necessary Evil has a world conquered by aliens, and you can drive them off the planet. In most RPGs, those setting would be arranged for the players to fight an eternal string of piecemeal victories.
 

AsenRG

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None, and there can never be any such!
If a setting fascinates me, I'd run it:thumbsup:.

Granted, sometimes I don't get to a setting long enough that I change my opinion of it...but overall? The above rule holds.
Eclipse Phase has got a wealth of setting but I have no idea how anyone gets a group of people on the same page to play it.
We played the 1e for over a year. We just discussed the setting and what the different parts of it amount to, before we began playing.
At some point the group estimated that my infomorph refugee hacker/surgeon was by far the most dangerous character in the game:shade:.
 

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Though it's not high concept by any means, I always thought it would be fun to run an Oathbound, Domains of the Forge game.

oathbound-coverjpg.jpg

It's sort of a "heavy metal" D&D/D20 setting somewhat akin to prison world settings like Philip Jose Farmer's Dungeon and Riverworld series. Alas, it was heavily built on D20 wonkiness added to its own setting rules next level wonkiness. At one point, I thought I might be able to house rule it into playability, but the more playable I made it, the less appealing it seemed.
 

Dyson Logos

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However, many things are transient. The wild west lasted two decades or so from the end of the Civil War and was pretty much over by the 1890s. There are plenty of other historical periods that lasted a few decades or one or two centuries with a lot of change in flux, followed by a period of relative stability that nobody cares about because it's boring.

Changing periods let you have power vacuums, conflict, lawless areas, things still in development, abandoned artifacts of the old era and interesting things that happened within living memory.

Yep. This is why Cyberpunk games shouldn't span decades of time but should be compressed into a year or two. The power shifts that produce a fun and interesting cyberpunk setting don't last long, and then we get a boring utilitarian dystopian cyberpunk setting like the one we live in.
 

Dyson Logos

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Though it's not high concept by any means, I always thought it would be fun to run an Oathbound, Domains of the Forge game.

The setting was a blast - the problem for me is that it was too big. A whole campaign would fit nicely tucked into one sub-region of the major domains instead of rocking out in all of them. I played one campaign that was based in the giant city (Penance?) but most of the action took place in the Heavy Metal Dark Sun hellscape desert. And like the discussion about the Wild West, Cyberpunk, and Jorune - this is a setting that is shifting rapidly. One of the (Oathbound? It has been too long and I've forgotten all the terms) has been released and the prison/world is beginning to break down. It is the opportunity to take down one of the gods of the setting and take their place (and be forever a prisoner of the world... if it doesn't just shatter).
 

Skywalker

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Did it ever get published? I never saw anything for the game except the original boxed set, it seemed like it was there one day and then just disappeared

No, unfortunately for me. Text was all done and I know a few people use the Word files to run it as they are easier to follow.

The full line was the rulebook, the slipcase companion, the bestiary, and an adventure (first part of a campaign).
 

Simlasa

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The setting is in a state of change (like Tekumel) - in this case one polity has discovered a cache of ancient weapons and this is going to change everything so everyone else is scrambling to catch up.
I've seen a lot of people decry 'metaplot'... so how would you walk the line between having a setting in flux without having it declared a metaplot? Just leave all change up to the consequences of PC actions? That may or may not actually budge things... like in a 'wild west' setting I would not expect the average group of PCs to be pushing for settling down... but having civilization invade their stomping ground might rub them the wrong way.
I always liked the idea of playing out a big 4x wargame in the background to generate setting events... but Players would have to join in for it to be matter much.
 

Dyson Logos

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The same way that it is handled in Tekumel - the game is provided in a state of flux and you play through it and what happens in your game world is what happens. Supplements shouldn't push the timeline forward, just provide glimpses of places, people, and things at that crucial moment. Each game world is therefore different, and also correct. In Tekumel this is explained as "the tree of time" where different versions of the world are on different branches.

In our EPT campaign, we've been dealing with the metaplot (which is progressing more slowly in our campaign in some respects compared to the official one as we significantly slowed down the crisis of the invasion from Yan Kor) and the tree of time. One character actually showed up from another branch of the tree where things are progressing as they do in the novels and the later Tekumel RPGs, and is very surprised to see things running at a different pace with different major players on our branch. But he adapted quickly.
 

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Demon: The Descent.

I love the alien tensions that the premise creates with its powerfully inhuman fallen angels trying to understand feeble mortals in order to bring down a cold unfeeling god. I dig the Doom-style merging of demonic imagery and technology. I think the use of spy-thriller trappings is much more interesting (dare I say "realistic"?) than the usual baroque hidden society tropes.

Too bad the system is too intricate, character creation would be a slog, and my feeble brain isn't very good at challenging high-power characters.

It also turns out that "you're Jason Bourne but also a cyberdemon" is surprisingly niche in its appeal to potential players. Guess they'd all rather just be drow or vampires again.
Love the game, but stopped running it because it was so crunchy
 

Giganotosaurus

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Kult: Divinity Lost 4th Edition
Kult_Divinity_Lost_Original_Cover.png
I love the setting as a whole, in particular the location of Metropolis. The abandoned, decaying city filled with the broken playthings of imprisoned gods is one of the coolest adventure locations I've come across since I found Morrowind.
Unfortunately I'd have to write up my own campaign as most of the interesting premade ones involve kids in grave peril, something my current group ain't ok with.
 

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Most of mine are ones that I just have never found the players who seem interested in it.

Double Cross and Remnants topping the list.
 

TristramEvans

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Mythic Russia

pic534379.jpg


I've had a fascination with Russian/Slavic myths since my first encounter with the Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless in a book of fairy tales I read as a child. This was even further ignited by WF Ryan's astounding The Bathhouse at Midnight, one of the most incredible books on folklore I've ever owned. And Mythic Russia for Heroquest (the Glorantha RPG not the boardgame) is a masterpiece on the subject, one of the most thorough Culture Games and resources in the hobby. Alack and alas, I've never encountered a player group as interested in the subject as myself, so no Bogatyrs & Bylinas in my foreseeable gaming future.
 

TristramEvans

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Slavic (and even more so Baltic) folklore are very hard to get good resources on in English. I must buy that book.

I got Mythica Russia PoD through Lulu during one of their Black Friday sales.

The Bathhouse at Midnight though I think you'd in particular really like. Ryan does a really good job of taking a piece of folklore and describing the cultural eements and how they developed around it that specific "faeries" are associated with.
 

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Nightbane. I actually love the "take the worst stereotypes about White Wolf gaming and make them a selling point" vibe, but I just can't see myself ever running Palladium system ever again.

I am toying with making it freeform or using CineUnisystem for it. As Nightbane would be a perfect switch for shapechanging demons in Buffy.
 

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Earthdawn, Shadowrun, Kult, Mutants and Masterminds 3e, GURPS *anything*, Hero System are all at the tops of this list for me.
Seconding Shadowrun. It's another game I play in spite of the system, not because of it.
 

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I am toying with making it freeform or using CineUnisystem for it. As Nightbane would be a perfect switch for shapechanging demons in Buffy.

Somewhere..I used to have conversion unofficial conversion notes. Sighs.
 

TristramEvans

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I played some fantastic Shadowrun games in high school. I'm so tied to that iteration/vision of the future (1st/2nd edition) though, that I couldn't bear to play any of the new editions, and I'd be hard pressed to find players willing t play in the outdated future of the 80s, so I may never get to revist that particular world
 

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If anyone is interested enough, with the new online gaming scene, I'm sure you could find players for some of these games. For example I'd love to play a Mythic Russia game using HQ. I have the book and have also played a scenario run by Chad Bowser for his Time of Troubles game set in the 16th century and a fantasy Russia really appeals. Set something at a UK friendly time and I'll jin in.
 
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