TRF Favorites: RPG Systems

Of course, we love RPGs here at TRF – and we try to dip our toes into as many systems as possible. However, some of them have a special place in our hearts, and we come back to them time and time again. So, in no particular order, here are our top 5 systems:

1. Numenera. Numenera is actually the longest running campaign we have for TRF – and for good reason. The Ninth World is a treasure trove of weirdness and creativity. The only limit to what can be done is your own creativity. For the main part I’ve only run written adventures for TRF – The Devil’s Spine and Beyond All Worlds. However, the world is open and so easy to integrate into the games. I’ve begun building my own campaign, and going through the Ninth World Guidebook, Core Book, and Bestiary have given me so many ideas of twists and turns to introduce to my characters.

I love the Cypher system as well. It’s all player facing, so the GM rarely has to roll – I only roll to see what cyphers or mutations to hand out to my players. It’s also a d20 system, but doesn’t use modifiers like Pathfinder or D&D. Instead a difficulty is set for each task between 0-10, and the players must roll above the difficulty x 3 in order to succeed. However, they are able to adjust the difficulty, by using effort, spending out of their pools, being trained in the task, or using a cypher. Players earn XP in every session, for playing and through GM intrusions, which means I as the GM offer them XP in exchange for something bad happening to them. The great thing about XP in the Cypher System is that you can spend it. So you roll a one at a crucial moment? You can spend one of your XP to re-roll. Don’t want to take that GM intrusion? Spend an XP to avoid it. I keep finding myself in other systems wishing I could spend that XP for a re-roll, or adjust the difficulty in my favor.

Character creation is also great. There are three archetypes possible: Glaive (the fighter), Nano (the wizard), and Jack (the rogue). Each character gets to pick a descriptor and a foci, so you get to pick characteristics and what is important to your character, and then get the stat bumps to make this possible. When we were going through character creation for the Mysteries of Ninth World, I told the players not to worry about having an even distribution of the character types, because it’s really the foci and descriptors that make and set apart the characters. For instance, Ilvarya and Titania are both Jacks, but they are completely different.  And I can’t emphasize enough how easy I find character creation and leveling up. It feels very natural, and there isn’t too much to keep track of.

I’ve run games in a bunch of different systems, and Numenera is far and away my favorite. The world is so interesting and so deep, and like I said the only limit is your own creativity. The books are gorgeous and simply a joy to read through – the little tidbits scattered throughout are so entertaining.
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2. Final Girl. We record several episodes each week and attempt to balance about 18 different schedules to make sure we can get the whole group there each time. With that many people, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes not everyone can show up. When that happens we have The Final Girl to turn to. This is GM-less system that takes about 5 minutes to set up, and all you need is a deck of cards. In a game of Final Girl, you create your own horror movie and get to wallow in all the great tropes that exist. I love horror movies, I love the tropes, and I love pulling them out in this game.


Set up is easy and fun and the rules are very simple. As the game progresses everyone gets a chance to play any of the characters as well as the killer, and it becomes more and more of a bloodbath as the game goes on. The only sticking point we’ve ever hit is that sometimes the card draws mean it takes a long time for the killer to succeed in a scene, but things are set up so that eventually they will kill their victim(s).

Worried you can’t come up with a scenario to play in? The back of the book has 52 possibilities, including “Somehow, you have been sucked into Hell. You are trying to escape because it is obviously not a healthy place to be,” “A scientist or scientists plays God and returns the dead to life. They are not grateful,” and “Dracula.”

This is our go-to game for something quick to play because it is honestly the system we’ve probably had the most wacky fun in.
Sadly the site where we purchased this from isn’t up currently. We’ll keep you updated!
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3. The Strange. A lot of the praises I sung for Numenera can just be applied here. Both games run off the Cypher system, and what works there works just as great here. What is unique and puts the game on this list is the setting. In this version of our world, other realities exist just below the surface of our perceptions where dwell the embodiment of every fictional construct people have ever believed in. Fantasy worlds where lords and ladies live in magnificent castles and knights and magicians do battle with dragons, mad science dystopias where bioengineering runs amuck and people with psionic powers are as common as graduate students, or any number of post-apocalyptic wasteland, all are not only possible but are reachable by people with the ability to interact with The Strange.

The Strange is a long since defunct dark energy construct underlying our reality that once permitted faster than light travel between the stars. Whoever built it isn’t around anymore though, so there’s been no one around to work on upkeep. What’s worse, there are things that live out there in the dark spaces beyond normal space and time, hungry things. Ever wondered why we haven’t found anyone else out there among the stars? The answer is simple: planetvores found them first.

But that’s the big picture. What The Strange means for most people is that you can travel anywhere and do anything, using characters built using the simple yet deep creation system described above. Then, whenever your character goes to another reality, translates to another recursion as they say in game, you manifest in a new body suitable for that reality and get to pick a different focus. Someone who operates undercover on Earth may channel sinfire in the fantasy kingdoms of Ardeyn, or incorporates weapons in the alien recursion of Ruk where mad science reigns. Each place they go, gives characters a contextually appropriate way in which they can be the hero they want to be. In short, The Strange is the ultimate sandbox.
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4. Trail of Cthulhu. In the second episode of The Redacted Files, our brave heroes barely escaped a terrible fate when they were chased off a mountain by its otherworldly inhabitants and their human intermediary. Then they found an entire town flash frozen, its population of 300 souls wiped out in an instant. Then they failed about half a dozen perception checks and the scenario ended because there was nothing else they could do to get the story back on track. What Trail of Cthulhu was meant to address was this very fundamental shortcoming in any system that relies on pure luck for story element. To put it simply, if you need a piece of information to move forward, the Keeper gives it to you.

Trail of Cthulhu isn’t just a straightforward modification of the Call of Cthulhu framework adapted to Robin D. Laws’s terrific Gumshoe Engine though, far from it. Trail seeks to recapitulate everything that is mythos role-playing into a system more suited to procedural investigation, so that the drama switches from will the investigator find the clue to what can the investigator learn from the clues he or she discovers. What this means is that at the end of the day, though they still probably won’t be prepared for it, the players will get to see what it is they were meant to find, rather than wandering around, looking for the plot until the world ends, sometimes literally.

This mentality of automatic success is taken a bit farther with the use of investigative skills, where point spends can be used to gain just a little bit more information, and general point spends that end up working a little like effort in the Cypher System, enabling that spectacular success just at the right moment.

All in all, Trail is a polished experience that makes searching for the truth behind the mythos and the road to insanity so much smoother.
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5. Night’s Black Agents. So, what could make Trail of Cthulhu more awesome? What if you replaced the investigators with spies from your favorite espionage thrillers? And what if you replaced Eldritch horrors with vampires behind a global conspiracy with links to the highest levels of the governmental, commercial and criminal elite? Then you’d have an amazingly entertaining roller coaster ride, otherwise known as Night’s Black Agents.

On top of the usual Gumshoe goodness, NBA adds modular vampire creation guidelines, a menu of thriller combat rules, bonuses for players who specialize in certain abilities, guidance on setting up cities in which your agents may wreak havoc and conspiracies whose scope will boggle the players’ minds.

In the hands of a meticulous planner, Night’s Black Agents is a tool that could easily create campaigns that are works of art. In our hands, it makes for a great way to wreck things in new and exciting ways. We can’t wait to share our first adventure at the end of April.
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*Note: If you purchase these titles from Pelgrane Press, a PDF is included with the book.

–Megan and Aser

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