Well, we are rolling through these questions now. So far they have all been pretty good questions too. What gives a game its staying power? That is interesting. I have to say that this is a complex answer too because it can be multiple things. Let me start by thinking about which games I have played the most? Earthdawn, Shadowrun, Pathfinder, James Bond RPG and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons second edition. I have been playing for thirty-two years and these games would take possibly an equal amount of time out of that. Let me break the reasons why that is down.
Why did I play Pathfinder for so long? There are a couple of reasons. First and foremost of those reasons were that I could always get a game. Pathfinder is one of the big name games and plays just like Dungeons and Dragons with a few tweaks. When I started playing the system was slick and the rules bloat was yet to set in. I still play this game, though I would much prefer not to now. I play it because I am running an Adventure Path and for better or worse I finish things I start. I play it online with people that have become my friends. They are enjoying it so I want to let them see it through.
The other reason that I played this game is the fact that nearly every role player knows this system back to front. There are perhaps one or two that do not (sorry Evan) but most do. That saves heaps of time having to teach people the system.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition
This really is the edition of choice. I have played them all and I keep buying the books to this one and design games for it. I prefer this system before all of the extraneous rules bloats clawed it back to mediocre too. I am looking squarely at all the brown covered handbooks that they released. On its own, the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monstrous Manual really make this game shine. It can be anything you want it to be. Though many people tell me it was all about the Murder Hobo, it was not. Go back and read these books. They designed it for a broad spectrum of game styles and it delivers on each equally. Its system is as simple or as complex as you want it to be and there is nothing better than just sitting down and designing with this system. I started designing a game for this system at the start of the year and am still going. May never play it but designing it is so much fun.
I am talking here about the first and second edition. Back when the makers of Shadowrun understood what the game was about and asked the right questions. Shadowrun was something new. I got the first edition the week it came out and I played the guts out of it. Here was a game that blended magic and science fiction and computers. I was in love (and still my love yearns for it). It was something different and exciting. FASA games knew what was at the heart of it and 90% of the product that came from them was superb. Shadowrun has not stayed at that level of brilliance and recent games I have played of it make me certain not to try again.
James Bond RPG
This was made in the early 80’s by Victory Games and I am an avid collector of the materials now. I have a heap of the modules and all of the supplements now. It is a game that excels in one on one gaming, which I love. You can play it with a larger group but the idea of mobs of spies is a hard one to uphold. The mechanics in this game is what truly had me enamoured. There are mechanics in this game that still feel revolutionary. Games are about the experience that they can give to the player and this game excels at the experience. I have not played a game of this for probably 20 years but old players of mine still talk about it and their characters. I would play it in a heartbeat again.
I have been playing Earthdawn since it came out too. 1993 it arrived and it slowly took over from Shadowrun with my gaming group. This game’s longevity is all about its substance and setting. Here is a game that is gritty horror twisted with optimistic exploration. It has moved on from the true darkness of 1993 but it is still about telling the stories. For me, it has lost a little lustre as civilisation has moved ahead of the dark astral threats of the Horrors. For me, it was all about the darkness in a shadow and the fear of the player. But it is a beautifully rich setting with a crunchy system that supports the setting.
There are other games I would like to add to this list but I am uncertain if they will be stayers like these workhorses. I have tried to, in each description, give you a sense of why they have staying power. It can be a unique thing, something as simple as saving you time teaching a new player right through to richness of setting and mechanics. I have played an exponential amount of other games than those listed here but this is the list I consider to be at the core of my career. Keep rolling!