Greywulf's Games of the Year 2009

Where would the end of the year be without the end of the year review posts? Nothing says New Year more than a look at what has been. Without further ado I give you Greywulf’s Games of the Year 2009!

Looking back, 2009 has been a wanton harlot of a year, promising much role-playing variety but delivering little. Yet at the same time it’s been a terrific year for gaming with sessions covering everything from Scooby Doo to The End of the World itself. My little group has visited planets (and blown the carp out of them), travelled the multiverse and camped atop a Barrow Mound in Northern Cardolan.

What we’ve not done though is seen much variety in our gaming systems. I had hoped to have some Alpha Omega sessions under my belt by now, and harboured a secret desire to mashup Traveller and Call of Cthulhu one more time. I wanted more Dogs in the Vineyard, more Primetime Adventures and more…. well, just more. but it sadly wasn’t meant to be. But hey, that’s what new years are for, right?

With that in mind, here’s the winners:

Honourable Mention: 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars
Last year’s Game of the Year has earned a pride of place at our game table time and again. It’s quick to prep and blindingly hilarious to play. Take a bunch of friends, lots of alcohol and blow shit up. What’s not to love? As the game develops it evolves with the horror of your character’s actions and increasing questioning of humanity’s place in the cosmos taking over.

Last year I said it was the perfect game system and it still is… almost. 3:16’s only weakness is that it doesn’t stand up well to solitaire (one GM/one player) play. This is one game which demands a bunch o’folks around the table!

Bronze: Savage Worlds
AKA The Little Game System Which Could. The intertubes are already chock full of praise for Savage Worlds so you don’t need me to say how good it is – you should already know by now. This is a great system for Doodle Campaigns where you want to turn your campaign idea into playability with the least effort possible. Character Generation is flexible though demands a lighter touch than hardcore D&D gamers might expect. By default a starting Novice character is far weaker than with 4e 1st level counterpart meaning it’s perfect for that gritty low-level urban sprawl fantasy you’ve been aching to play. Or a modern-era campaign. Or swashbuckling in 17th century France. Or anything else, for that matter. Savage Worlds is generic, in the best meaning of the word.

Silver: Mutants & Masterminds
Anything Savage Worlds can do, Mutants & Masterminds can do better. This is my go-to system for anything outside the D&D norm. Underneath the wonderful superhero battle armour there’s a superb generic system pulsing like a beating heart. This is the game from which 4e D&D has stolen all it’s best innovations only to copy them badly. I’m looking at you, Minions and Action Point rules. With the watertight Power Level rules M&M can scale and handle anything from the lowliest TV cop drama up to cosmic-level threats of Unimagined Awe. The default Power Level (10) is prime for superheroin’ goodness with the heroes roughly equal in power to Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four. Drop it to PL6 and our heroes could match your typical 4e D&D characters or be street-level beginning superheroes.

I’ve yet to find anything which M&M cannot do right out of the single Core Book but it’s also one brilliantly supported system with genre books covering all the Ages of comicdom and beyond. This year saw the release of Warriors & Warlocks, a full-on fantasy supplement for M&M which is inspirational reading for anyone who wants to game with armour and sword. Better than D&D? Oh yes.

Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition
Yet it’s the daddy of them all which gets Gold. Yes, M&M is a technically superior system. Yes, Savage Worlds is more flexible. Yes, 3:16 is more explosive. But nothing captures your hearts and imagination like Dungeons & Dragons. The Fourth Edition rules are rock solid and deliver the goods, in spades. Combat has gained a whole new dimension with the Powers system – it’s tactically challenging, tense and exciting. Outside combat this is the same D&D we know and love with the added awesome of Skill Challenges adding another layer onto the game. Anything you could do in previous editions of D&D you can still do, and the designers have done a fine job of adding more without taking a darned thing away.

Where 4e really shine though is it’s hackability. This is a system which cries out to be toyed with. Monster building and customization is trivially easy once more. That’s a huge relief after the painful voodoo of Third Edition. Monsters are monsters again and adding Classes to monsters no longer involves putting aside a couple of hours in a darkened room with a stiff drink. Want a bigger than normal orc or a weakened Dragon? You can do the math right at the table, during play.

Building a whole new class isn’t for the faint hearted but creating a new Race is simple enough and adding new skills is as simple as… well, just adding them. Where 4e stands out is in Encounter building. Given a pool of XP (enough to create an easy, medium or hard challenge) you can fill it in so many ways with combinations of monsters jumping off the page. With monsters being given roles it’s easy enough to match the critters to your tactical needs. Want the heroes to battle big monsters up close while being harried by arrow-fire from above? Drop a couple of Brutes on the table, and add Artillery. Pick your monsters according to XP and taste, and you’re done. Want a load of monsters under the command of a leader? Use one Controller and a load of Minions. Encounter building was one of the most difficult aspects of Third Edition, and in 4e it’s one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the game – for this Lazy GM, at least.

I could go on about just how great the Monster Manuals are, about the individual Classes, Treasure allocation and more, but I’ll save those for future posts. There is a whole new year of blogging to fill up too, after all.

Till next time, and good gaming!

9 Comments on “Greywulf's Games of the Year 2009”

  1. Anything you could do in previous editions of D&D you can still do
    Henchmen? Strongholds?

    I quite enjoy playing 4e, but I get the feeling it’s something that’s more fun for GMs than players, particularly in comparison to the 3e era. Take, for example, the hackability you mention; yes, it’s quick and easy to chuck some new monster types together*, but try tinkering with the stuff on the other side (ie classes and races) and you start to get unstuck. Unlike with monsters and encounters, there’s no guidance on how to do this for the players’ side of things (there might be in DMG2, in which case, ignore me!)

    *So much so that it makes the “six types of orc and no fluff” format of the Monster Manual even more disappointing. The templates of 3e were a very good idea scuppered by a complicated system and would work even better in 4e, in my opinion.
    .-= thekelvingreen´s last blog ..Top Ten Comic Characters 2009 Edition =-.

  2. @ thekelvingreen RE: Henchmen & Strongholds – agreed! Which is why I personally rate the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as being the best version of D&D ever made. Unfortunately, my current batch of players far prefer 4e so that’s the one we’ve played most this year.

    When it comes to player hackability I see your point. I’m hoping that’s something which the upcoming Strategy Guides will fix. We GMs have been rather spoiled in 4e when it comes to the DMGs.

  3. “Henchmen? Strongholds?”


    Unless you’re one of those DMs that respond to any player request by furrowing your brow and turning them down because you can’t find a chart for it, in which case…

  4. wrt races and classes, what exactly do you want to tinker with? there are already a score of handles for defining your character in various ways. choosing powers alone can result in radically characters within the same class.

    i’ve found that creating new races isn’t paricularly hard. want a fire mage? no problem. pick your wizard powers, change all the damage type keywords to ‘fire’. a champion of the ice queen? pick your paladin powers, change all the damage type keywords to ‘cold’. multiclassing provides further avenues for character tweaking and diversification, if you need them.

  5. I envy your group a bit – being able to try out alot of different games – my groups tend to latch onto one game system with the tenacity of a bulldog with lockjaw… so I can only say that I totally agree that 4e is amazing and I’m enjoying my leap from 3.5 ed to the new edition immensely!
    .-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..News in Review for Dec 21 to Dec 27 2009 =-.

  6. @drow When it comes to Races I’m a big fan of being able to create my own or tinker with existing ones to make them better fit the campaign concept. For example – in an upcoming game one of my players wants to run a Wulfen (Vargr-like wolfman from 3e). If he comes up with the 4e stats, I’m likely to approve it.

    Customizing an existing Class is, as you rightly say, very easy. The Powers especially lend themselves well enough to this and the rules are very keen to advocate changing the thematics of any Power.

    But creating a whole new class from scratch – a proper 4e Binder class, for example – is a very daunting prospect.

  7. edit; should read “choosing powers alone can result in radically DIFFERENT characters within the same class.”

    @greywulf; i never picked up the 3.5 tome of magic, so i’m not familiar with the binder specifically. i’ll agree that looking at a new class, and the ten pages of powers you need for it, looks daunting at first.

    but unless you’re exploring a fundamentally different power scheme (looking at the psion), established patterns of power progression makes things easier. its even easier if you can model some of your powers on those from another existing class. for example, the shaman class might be a good starting point for the binder. pick an appropriate build, strip out spirit companions and primal fluff, insert bound daemons/whatever and arcane fluff. add a couple of ‘signature’ powers at appropriate points.

  8. Savage Worlds… I keep hearing people talk about the game and really don’t know much about it. Lately I have been liking the idea of “playability with the least effort possible.”

    I agree 4e is a great game just like you say above, but for some reason after a year of playing my friends and I gave up on it. I also noticed this year some of the local cons have seen a rise in the diversity of RPGs being played besides 4e, which is odd.
    .-= Jon´s last blog ..Darra Home to Druids =-.

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