Top 10 Gaming Books

This came up on Facebook and since I haven’t been blogging here on instead spending all of my blog writing time on Burst of Insight I thought I’d do this here. Plus, I can throw in some cover art. So here we go, my top 10 gaming books…or a fairly close approximation I may have forgotten something somewhere.

Planescape (1994): Okay berk, I loved TSR’s wacky and weird planar campaign. Planscape brought our group back to AD&D after a hiatus and a friend of mine ran the most amazing campaign in and around Sigil. Planescape may be my favorite D&D setting ever, the evocative art of Tony DiTerlizzi, Robh Ruppel, and Dana Knutson, the robust slang, and abnormal geography. All the of the little alien details sparks the imagination like no other D&D setting before or since, although Eberron came close.

Cyberpunk (1988): The first edition came at a time in my youth when the rebellious punk aesthetic appealed to me. The early edition featured simple black and white art even on the covers of the books in the box set but in my imagination, Night City was awash in neon and bright colors. When the second edition rolled out two years later I jumped at the update. While we were deep in our Cyberpunk phase we also played a lot of Shadowrun but the very first game to offer a chance to play in a world similar to Bladerunner was Cyberpunk between that and the fact that it’s one of the few hard sci-fi games to hold our group’s attention I had to include it on this list.

Gamma World (1985): This was the edition of the game that hooked me. I was lost pretty much the moment I laid eyes on the box set’s cover art. Despite some problems with the rules, the post-apocalyptic Gamma World became my group’s go-to game for a couple of years. When the d20 hardcover editions were released in 2003 I picked them up despite not having a group interested in playing.

Star Wars (1987): Another fairly early acquisition. How could fourteen-year-old me ever resist the lure of Star Wars? The system was very different from most of the games we played but it was a fast favorite. Possibly because it had x-wings and lightsabers. West End Games’ d6 system may not be the best version of Star Wars (I may have to award that to the new Fantasy Flight games) but it certainly deserves a spot on this list, if only for how it influenced my earliest games by introducing me to cinematic storytelling. From time to time, I also still toy with the idea of utilizing adventure scripts again.

Ultra Modern Firearms: I never played Millennium’s End but I did buy their Ultra Modern Firearms book on the advice of a friend. Charles Ryan packed his book of firearms with more important information than I would have expected. For years particularly while playing OWoD games this Millennium’s End sourcebook was a frequent companion. When Green Ronin released a d20 version I bought it right away and finally retired my original book. For the first time, I was able to use 100 percent of the book.

FATE Accelerated: I think I like the streamlined version of FATE more than the full version and at only $5.00 it was hard to pass up. The system is fast and flexible and a fun narrative game. We’ve used it to play familiar settings like Star Wars, Amateur Benders (like those found on The Legend of Korra), and a brief attempt a FATE Eberron campaign. FAE handled every setting very well and is an excellent example of great narrative rules.

The Advanced Bestiary: Green Ronin’s sourcebook for the Pathfinder Roleplaying game contains over 100 monstrous templates and sample monsters built with each of those templates. I’m frequently in need of a new monster for my games and the Advanced Bestiary delivers new versions of old favorites. This may be one of my most frequently referenced Pathfinder books aside from the Feat Reference Document or the Core Rulebook.

GURPS Timeline: One of my favorite gaming resources is the non-gaming Timetables of History, but my GURPS Timeline gets just as much use or more. This GURPS sourcebook is slimmer than Timetables and easier to reference. Plus like many GURPS books, it has a number of useful sidebars and suggestions for how to use certain events in time travel RPGs.

Pathfinder Core Rulebook: Okay, of course, this game is high on my list. Pathfinder is the RPG I play most and the one I freelance for almost exclusively. Pathfinder isn’t a perfect game but it is a solid and flexible chassis. Monica and I have four copies of the rules 1 first printing hardcover two of the newest printings also in hardcover and one of the new pocket editions. Of those, the PE may be my favorite version of the rules. Smaller and lighter but still durable the PE is a great value and more convenient to carry to game on those nights when we’re not playing in the house.

For a long time, it looked like Pathfinder would be the definitive heir to Dungeons and Dragons’ legacy. Pathfinder offers a good balance between complexity and simplicity of play. Players have a dizzying number of choices but once characters are made, play is fairly simple using a unified 20 mechanic for most actions.

Numenera: So how did this game displace Pathfinder for number one? It’s a combination of mechanics and setting. The level of weird and “magic” feels like a callback to favorite settings like Planescape and Eberron while still being entirely new and exciting. A billion years in our future the Ninth world is built on the backs of eight great prior civilizations. The wonders those civilizations left behind are often as incomprehensible to residents of the world as magic. And for all the detail to this world, Monte Cook has left huge portions of it open for GMs to define.

What really cements this game’s place on the list though are the rules. Without a doubt, this is my favorite game to run. The rules really get out of the GM’s way while offering the players a wealth of options and a good deal of agency.

So that’s my Top 10 RPG books and a little about why they’re on my list but before I go I’d like to do an honorable mention because if I do this list in a couple of months there’s a good chance this Pathfinder resource will probably make the cut.

This afternoon I received my hardcover copy of the Talented Bestiary, from Rogue Genius Games. First skim through and I’m tremendously thrilled by this book. I doubt it will replace the Advanced Bestiary as most referenced monster book but I won’t say it won’t either. At first glance, it’s that good.