What Single (Non-D&D) Roleplaying Game Would I Choose?

I received an interesting question the other day. If I had to select a single RPG to use for the rest of my life — and I could not select any form of D&D or a “D&D Heartbreaker”, which game would I select — and why would I select it?

That’s an interesting enough question that I’m going to devote this post to answering it. Before I consider games, however, it’s probably best to clearly state what I’m looking for in any tabletop RPG that I’m going to play for more than a session or two:

  1. I want a traditional RPG with a GM who handles the world and players who only handle their character(s). I have no interest in a narrative/storygame RPG.
  2. Fast combat that does not need minis/counters or battlemats/terrain sets. My goal is that the average combat take no more that 10-15 minutes, including any setup.
  3. Fast character creation. A fairly experienced player should be able to create a character in 10-15 minutes maximum, no more than double that for a brand new player assuming he has a bit of help from the GM or a more experienced player. The character design system should not require system mastery or be easily min-maxed.
  4. The game rules should fade into the background for players. Players should not need to speak or think in rules-terms. Players should simply be able to pretend to be their character, say what they do in a situation and the GM can tell them what they need to roll/do rules-wise. Players should not be jerked out of their character by the regular need to make decisions based on the rules instead based on the game world.
  5. The rules should be easy for the GM to use in a sandbox setting. That is the rules should not require the GM to do hours of NPC design or require a lot of other mechanical prep. They should not expect that the GM will be telling a story or will be using a published adventure/setting (although a number of published settings and adventures are certainly a bonus).
  6. The rules should be easy to modify/house rule without having to worry about unexpected side effects.
  7. The published rules should be fairly stable. No edition treadmill (or a very slow edition treadmill). No constant stream of errata. Supplemental books with rules splat should be clearly optional.

I’ve played a number of generic/universal systems over the years, and in general, I don’t care for them. Most are very complex and fail at 2 or 3 of my criteria. For example, I’ve played and GMed both GURPS and Hero System and both have slow combat and character creation and tend to reward system mastery and mini-maxing. They can be fun games, but neither are what I would want to spend the rest of my life playing or GMing.

Other popular choices turn me off. I simply do not like Savage Worlds even after I houserule the combat system to make it less minis-oriented. Fate in general is a complete turn off. I do not like how the fate point economy supersedes reality in some cases and it requires more focus on the rules than I like. I actually don’t mind playing a few Fate-based games (e.g. Legends of Anglerre), but I would not enjoy GMing them nor would I want to spend the rest of my life playing them. D6 isn’t bad (D6 Star Wars was certainly the best Star Wars RPG I’ve even ran/played), but it doesn’t excite me enough to want to run it and only it for the rest of my life.

There are also some less known choices (Unisystem, Tri-Stat, Fuzion, etc.) that I simply do not know enough about to select. These systems might be great systems, but I’m not about to saddle myself with a game I’ve not very familiar with as the only game I’d have available.

Basic Roleplaying rulebook coverSo what would my choice be? Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying. I’ve used versions of the system since the late 1970s (Runequest, Call of Cthulthu, Stormbringer/Elric, and Superworld) and actually like it. While I don’t like BRP nearly as much as l like TSR era D&D, I like it enough that I could see only playing games based on BRP for the rest of my life without simply giving up gaming. BRP easily covers the genres I’m most interested in (and in one rulebook yet) and matches all of the requirements I listed. Admitted it is a bit harder than TSR D&D to use with zero prep, but I can live with low prep.

What single (non-D&D) Roleplaying game would you choose?

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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Joe NelsonNarmerfaoladhAndreas DavourThe Bane Recent comment authors
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Joe Nelson

This is where I differ from many gamers: I love variety and have been known to pick up almost any game, read it, and want to run/play it immediately. I actually tend to play more D&D as a player rather than GM, but if I had to pick one game to survive the Gaming Apocalypse, I think I'd choose Mongoose's edition of Traveller. It has the freedom to do just about anything, from sandbox to scripted, from hard sci-fi to science fantasy, and the rules are concise. Also, in the horrible event of a Gaming Apocalypse, I think d6s are… Read more »


Barbarians of Lemuria. It captures my prefered fantasy genre, sword & sorcery, extremely well. It is a very simple system that only uses two d6s (three sometimes.) On top of that, it is easy to port to other genres. There is a men's action version, post-apocalypse version, mythical Greece and a musketeers version with an expanded combat system. I've even kicked around the idea of using it for Star Wars.


Assuming that I'd be allowed to extend it to cover other genres and settings, then MegaTraveller, which I consider to be the best edition of the best game (once all of the problems in the initial publication are corrected – I really wish that pre-1990 games companies paid more attention to issues like proofreading). If not, then Mongoose Traveller, which is pretty close and already has a lot of the necessary extensions.

Andreas Davour

Interestingly enough, BRP. 😀

The Bane

I would probably go with Savage Worlds. Namely because it scratches my itches and covers all your points for me.

Gordon Cooper

I think Fudge meets all your criteria (and it would certainly be my choice, although Basic Role-Playing would probably be tied or a close second). It's the definitive game for #4 above (and one of the main reasons it was designed).

Baron Greystone

BRP is a great choice. Classic Traveller would be my second choice.

Vb Wyrde

I've used my homebrew system since 1978, and gave it a thorough simplification in 2007. It's my favorite, and I fully do expect to be using it ad infinitum. I'd be awful curious to hear how it stacks up in your estimation of these games, if you care to take a gander. Just go to http://elthos.com and create a free login. The rules are downloadable for free from the main page. There also happens to be a complete system to to support the rules behind that in case you're interested, but the application is not necessary for running the game… Read more »

Cristina Persa

is there any RPG that is fast and realistic as you ask ? never seen one unfortunately 🙁


Cristina: OD&D, B/X, BECMI/RC, 1e (the way most people play it), 2e without the player's option stuff) and their clones generally have very fast combat provided you don't try to use them with minis and battlemats. Realistic isn't really one of my needs — especially for combat where I prefer somewhat abstract and fast to more realistic and slow

Cristina Persa

I agree! if you don't consider "realistic" 1ed and 2ed are the best 🙂