Four games as a GM, my rankings

Game Ranking

My return to Tabletop Role Playing games was triggered by the onset of the pandemic back in 2020. At the time I knew I’d need something social to keep me from imploding, and an online game of D&D fit the bill. So, a few days later I was playing a half-elf paladin named Serin Lithos and having a blast.

A few months later I was musing on running an adventure for my neighbors, and in November I decided to play with my Christmas presents early to start making maps with Dungeondraft and setting up FoundryVTT to play online.

I ended up running that same adventure for my pandemic 5e group after our campaign finished up, and we ended up expanding the one shot out into a campaign which came to an end this past Monday. Throughout those two years I began picking up other systems to read and review. In fact, I’ve now run four different systems as a GM, and now that my one campaign has ended I thought it might be a good time to rank them.

Let me be clear, each of these games is lot of fun in their own ways, but there are some I’d be more quick to run again than others. And so that’s the criteria I’m using.

4. Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

D&D Player’s Handbook

Of the four games I’ve run, D&D fifth edition is probably the only one I’m in no hurry to run again. This is not because I think it’s a bad game, it’s actually a good game, it’s because it’s not set up the way I think.

Here’s what I mean. I have a certain amount of expectations about how to build encounters and set up challenges which come to me from my youth collecting D&D books. And those expectations do not work for fifth edition. It just seemed that no matter how much I tried to buff up an encounter the players managed to push through it with no major issues. I tried setting ambushes, I gave creatures legendary actions, and even gave NPCs a boat load of hit points. It was never enough. The party blasted through everything as though it wasn’t even there.

Now, I know it’s possible to set up real challenges in fifth edition, so the failure in this endeavor was with me and not the system. The way the game “thinks” is so different from the way I think that I could never do a proper translation. I always ended up like I let the party down by making it too easy, and so I’m not eager to go back down that trail again.

If I get a chance to run a PC for fifth edition, however, I’m all in. I’d like to play the epic hero again.

3. Castles & Crusades

Castles & Crusades Players Handbook

It’s got a name that gives me some pause, but the system is excellent. Castles & Crusade’s got an AD&D feel, but with a modern bent. I love how a character’s primary and secondary attributes can change the way you play a class, and the unified mechanic behind its game engine is really fast in play, though it takes a bit to get used to the language.

I also appreciate C&C’s encumbrance system, and how the game manages to tweak combat in order to make it interesting without making it crunchy. There are certain things I’m still trying to wrap my head around, like how it handles morale checks, but there’s a lot to like. In fact, this is the system my monthly in person group plays and we’ve had a lot of fun with it.

So why it is ranked number 3? I’ve just not spent that much time with it yet. Nevertheless, this is one I’d considering running again if an opportunity arose.

2. Basic Fantasy RPG

Basic Fantasy RPG

BFRPG was the first non-fifth edition system I picked up after rejoining the hobby. There’s a lot to love about this game, not the least of which is because it hits the nostalgia button. This game behaves a lot like B/X and AD&D had a child who decided to not be over-constrained by tradition.

It’s got four standard races–Human, Elf, Halfling, and Dwarf–each of which has certain advantages and disadvantages. It’s also only got the four classic classes–Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and Magic User. It’s got tables and artwork which would be right at home in the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert sets I started with, and also uses ascending Armor Class. The books are also free to download, or sold at cost for print copies. Moreover, if there’s something you don’t like in the book you can download the wordprocessing document and insert your own mechanics and language. That’s pretty cool.

My BFRPG table is my second-longest running campaign. It shows no sign of slowing down as there’s no story to complete, and I’m ok with that. Are there things I’d change? Sure, but this is a game for which I’ll always have fondness. The combination of modern presentation and unified mechanic may one day make Castles & Crusade jump ahead of BFRPG, but that day is not today. BFRPG is an enjoyable walk in familiar territory where save or die poison is a thing.

1. EZd6

EZd6 - a fast-moving game of fantasy mayhem.

Oh wow.

I first encountered EZd6 through a youtube review, and then I noticed people tweeting about it online. Everything I heard appealed to me, and over the summer I decided to pick it up.

There’s no stats, PCs get three strikes and they are out, and the game’s mechanics can be explained in 15 minutes, even to a brand new player. I know, I just did it for a one shot I ran.

EZd6 is fantasy adventuring which pulls out all the fiddly bits, while somehow managing to have a kinship with older versions of D&D. Social interactions are fun to rule on, magic rejects spell lists for schools of sorcery, and combat is both fast and entertaining. There are enough rules to give the game some guidelines, but its so open people end up making up moves as they go along.

There’s no actual character advancement in this system, so I’m not sure I’d try to run an ongoing campaign with it, but EZd6 is the game I’m running to for all my one shots moving forward. It’s so much fun.


I can’t reiterate enough. I don’t think any of these games are bad, they’re all very good. Even the game I would not want to run again is more about the dissonance between my expectations about the game and the game itself. They’ve all got their charms and their shortcomings. They’re all quirky in their own ways.

But I’m glad I took a chance on running each of these systems, and have had the opportunity to use them as I’ve shaped worlds with my players.

2 responses to “Game Ranking”

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