We're nearly at the end of 2023! I figured I'd take a moment to look back at what I played this year, and what I thought about it.
Despite my love for 5E, I didn't end up playing it. My gaming group tends to switch between systems frequently, and this year we primarily ended up bouncing between four different systems: Basic Fantasy RPG, Malefices, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Achtung! Cthulhu using the Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer's Edition. We also played a memorable one shot of Racoon Sky Pirates.
Basic Fantasy RPG - I've mentioned this one before, and I've even created a free mini-adventure for use with this rule system. This is probably my personal favorite RPG of all. It's basically a revised and slightly modified version of the 1981 Basic Expert rules for D&D. Fantasy races are split away from classes (so you could be a Dwarven thief or a Halfling Fighter, instead of just the generic Dwarf or Halfling from the original version), THAC0 is replaced with D20 ascending AC, and the Alignment system if pretty much ignored. All of the rules and tons of expansions and adventures are available for free. My group started an ongoing campaign that lasted us about three months. Then we got caught up in other games, but I'd like to get back to this one.
Malefices - One of the guys in my group is from France, and he had such fond memories of this game that he wanted us to experience it. The rules are all in French and are pretty hard to come by, so I didn't get a chance to actually read them myself--we just followed the game master's direction. From what I gathered it's a pretty old system with relatively simple rules, just a few stats and you're mostly trying to roll under your number to succeed. It pushed us more toward roleplay and less toward strategy. We ended up playing two adventures over the course of a few months, and they were both sandbox style--one set in a single manor house, the other in another house and small village. I liked the character I had created, and I liked the group dynamic that arose from our game--a sort of old-world style, group of earnest gentleman vibe. The stories were sort of Gothic horror, which was a nice change of pace.
Dungeon Crawl Classics - We've used this ruleset before to go through some classic adventures like White Plume Mountain--it's an OSR style game that's pretty easy to use with older D&D stuff, only some conversion required. This year we ran through one of DCC's original 0-level character funnels--Sailors of the Starless Sea. I've got a lot of love for DCC--the rules are a very inventive re-imagining of old-school B/X styles, modernized and upgraded and with a ton of really cool new concepts thrown in--tables to describe spell effects (with included possibilities for mutations and corruptions happening when the spells go wrong), a special mighty-deeds die to help actualize fighter daring-do. The rulebook itself is so chock-full of classic gonzo art that you could just keep flipping through it endlessly. But I feel a bit cumbersome to just pick this RPG up and play it--you're compelled to keep referencing tables and rolling for different outcomes, and it kind of slows down the game. I could see myself getting a lot out of it if I had the time and a committed group and we all wanted to focus on this and familiarize ourselves with it and become fluent in its intricacies, but in the casual play my group currently manages, we end up just stripping it down to its basics, and that comes with a sense of squandered possibilities, like we don't have the time or energy to do this game justice.
Achtung! Cthulhu - The same friend who ran us through a few Malefices adventures also ran two different adventures in Achtung! Cthulhu. It's an awesome concept: fighting Nazis trying to harness Cthulhu-style occult powers. The adventures felt very well written, with vividly imagined events and some really wild happenings, but it was also a bit railroady. Like if you don't do the right things in the right order, the game won't work. The Savage Worlds system seems like an easy-access, simple-to-play system, but it also felt a bit arbitrary to me. Basically, you're just trying to roll 4 or higher all the time, using various smaller Dice (no real use of the d20 in this game).