Last year, today, our question is What is the most intellectual RPG you own?1
Most intellectual RPG? Man, that’s worse than defining “old school” from day five. Are we talking about a game that makes you feel smarter than people who don’t grok what you’re reading? Or a game whose writing is rated above a sixth-grader’s vocabulary? A game with lofty ambitions or goals to make you a better person and reflect on the real world? Perhaps an agenda-filled RPG? How about the most pretentious game ever?
Let’s face it, most RPGs are pretty dumb. You make a character and her or she or it does stuff, usually through a liberal application of violence, in order to, um, get stuff. The writing may be slightly better than these little posts I’ve been making, but the largest word I have used so far in this screed is “intellectual”, which was part of the question prompt, so that’s not saying much.
So, do I have a copy of Nobilis around here?
The closest thing I own to that is the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer game.
Work, Brains. Work.
Look, most RPGs are pretty smart. You create a whole world out of thoughts, man. The people who live there come straight from your brain! Their motivations, their goals in life, their stupid, stupid mistakes they’re still paying for after all these years have sprung from your imagination. Even if you’re playing HOL, Macho Women with Guns, or Nobilis.
In that case, I’m leaning towards a generic RPG, one that gives the game players the freedom to do anything. The big questions I have for a generic RPG are: Can this game do horror? Can I do a Star Wars game that feels like Star Wars in this game? (Also related: Can I do a Shadowrun game with this game?) Can I play comic book superheroes with this game? It doesn’t matter if I have to get a supplement or sourcebook to slot in a new play mode, like picking up GURPS Horror or GURPS Supers to make it work. But I don’t own GURPS proper. (Just two sourcebooks: GURPS Mysteries and GURPS The Prisoner).
I’m going with the Cortex Plus game line from Margaret Weis Productions. If I have to pick one, and only one, game in the line, it’s Smallville. Not only does it allow for all those game styles2, but the Cortex Plus system allows for the players to create things in the world, getting their brains involved in the shared world. This thing in the world didn’t exist until this player thought of it. BAM.
Is that still your answer today, Thomas?
Yeah, I think so. I’m tempted to look at Fate Core and use that for everything, but Leverage is probably the best Shadowrun game out there. And as much as I like Fate, it doesn’t do horror that well. I’d also recommend Primetime Adventures, but that doesn’t do action in a satisfying way. Cortex Plus is a base game system that can do a lot. It’s like starting with a roux, some rice, and chicken stock and winding up with shrimp etouffee or a spicy gumbo, depending on what you add.3
I worked on the Firefly RPG, which uses a different iteration of the basic rules that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying used and they’re both fantastic games. Leverage and Smallville both have the same basic similarity, but different executions — heck, I kind of want to play Star Wars, Smallville-style.
I would wager the Cortex Plus game system would be more popular if the license was truly open.
Aside: I’m working on sourcebooks and supplements for Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, the new game from the creator of Nobilis, so I’ve got that partially covered.
- aka “Who has a copy of Nobilis?” [↩]
- seriously, go find Smallville and use it for a fantastic Star Wars game [↩]
- I’m also loathe to recommend the various “Powered by the Apocalypse” Apocalypse World variants, despite loving AW. While they take on the same base, they are all starting to blur together to me right now, seemingly just swapping out names for basic moves and adding a new custom move here or there. There’s a superheroic variant that I’d like to see — With Great Power, I think — but I’m more interested in seeing what the Sentinels Comics RPG, developed by some of the people behind Cortex Plus, is going to do in the superhero space. Wow. Serious digression. [↩]