RPG Books that Surprised You (For Good or Ill)

hawkeyefan

Legend
I just read the Mothership Warden’s Manual and I am really impressed by how much GMing advice it packs into 60ish pages. Including foundational stuff like how to prep for your first game and how to record a campaign, to really great advice about horror and building tension. It systematizes it in an easily understood and implemented way. It also has suggestions on how to alter the core rules for desired play types.

Just all around a really great book.
 

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Laurefindel

Legend
That's gonna sound cliché, but D&D 3e, 4e, and 5e.

I was a 2E AD&D guy. I had my houserules, my homebrews, my Planescape books... I had refined and perfected 2E AD&D to my liking. Then people started talking about this new edition that simplified and codified everything. The more people kept talking about it, the less simple it started to appear, and the more bland the codes seemed to be. In addition, they had dropped the names of Baatezu and Tanar'ri, were allowing elves and dwarves to be paladins, were allocating wizards 1d6 hp per level, and giving clerics and druids 9 levels of spells! What the Baator! So I skipped it, mostly out of spite I think, like all the good movies I refused to see because everyone was talking about it (or worse, because of some actor that girls couldn't stop talk about). Like all good brooding, must-avoid-mainstream RPGer, I went on to play V:tM (the irony...)

Then, around the release of 3.5, I met a new RPG group and finally gave it a try (hey, it was either that or no RP!) and lo and behold, it was actually really good! And it was the houseruler and homebrewer's paradise! Apparently I wasn't the only one to think so because everyone and every game company started converting to 3.5.

After a good run, 4e was announced and I got very enthusiastic and had very high hopes. I subscribed to RPG news sites (ENWorld, what's that? Looks interesting...) and devoured every rumors and tidbit of information released. 4e would surprise me as well, but not in a good way. Apparently I wasn't the only one to think so because everyone and every game company started converting back to their own systems. So I skipped it, mostly out of spite I think, like many others.

Then, shortly before the release of 5e, I met a new RPG group and finally gave 4e a try (hey, it was either that or no RP!) and lo and behold, it was actually really good! They were playing it almost anime style, calling aloud their powers and whatnot. It was fun but short-lived as the rumors of 5e were everywere. So I went back to ENWorld and well, here we are.
 
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Argyle King

Legend
GURPS 4th Edition (in general)

Before I tried the game, I was intimidated by the reputation it has for being complicated.

After?

I found that (despite being "crunchy") the rules were mostly intuitive and produced results that made sense without too much thought; places where it is "complicated" tend to be in optional rules for people who want that extra level of detail.
 

aramis erak

Legend
After a good run, 4e was announced and I got very enthusiastic and had very high hopes. I subscribed to RPG news sites (ENWorld, what's that? Looks interesting...) and devoured every rumors and tidbit of information released. 4e would surprise me as well, but not in a good way. Apparently I wasn't the only one to think so because everyone and every game company started converting back to their own systems. So I skipped it, mostly out of spite I think, like many others.
4E surprised me as well, but neither good nor bad... just... totally not what I was expecting of D&D.
4E plays just fine IMO, but it doesn't feel like D&D to me.
 

teitan

Legend
I had bought Swords & Wizardry thinking that would scratch the itch of what I wanted and it did not. It is a great rewrite, but it felt so... generic... compared to 0e. I had a couple other more old school games but they felt super niche even while trying to emulate old D&D. I wanted this game that I remembered but never existed...

For years I would see DCC in the local Booksamillion or the Referee screen... all by it's lonesome and I just didn't feel that drawn to it. It's huge, it looks complicated because of the size. I had seen the 0 level concept and felt like it was such a huge thing in the culture I just didn't want to check it out.

One day about three years ago I watched a review and the reviewer showed that the rules content was actually pretty small, what you NEED to run the game. He explained the magic system and how it worked, he discussed the adventures, the crit tables and all these things that made it seem complex were super simple from the way he talked. I already loved the art though, Peter Mullen, Doug Kovacs and Stefan Poag are three of my favorite artists and they had Erol Otus? Ok, I am intrigued.

So I bought the softcover, great deal. I read it cover to cover in two days. It was the game that never existed. Like the band Ghost it captures a nostalgia for something you always knew was out there but didn't exist no matter how hard you looked then poof, someone makes it. That is DCC.

It feels like a game with a storied history, it has all these wonderful adventures and it isn't as gonzo as convention stories implied. It carried all the flair for weird of Moorcock, Lieber & Vance. It made no effort to even resemble Lord of the Rings.

I never looked back once we played a year later, we were in a Starfinder campaign and needed to wrap that up but we did a one shot and then an MCC one shot. Then another one shot that turned into our current campaign. We don't really need another fantasy game even though we have OSE (which scratches a similar itch though) and Dragonbane (we will probably play this) but DCC has the perfect boxed set with Lankmar and Dying Earth. It had great adventures that carry a culture in stronger ways than 5e and it's story season period. You hear war stories about DCC and people bond over their shared experiences in different adventures. It's perfect and I was surprised.
 

S'mon

Legend
Tasha’s Guide to Everything and Monsters of the Multiverse are two of the worst RPG supplements I’ve ever had the misfortune to buy.

I got Tasha's for £13 on Amazon, I expected it to be bad, and it was just as bad as I expected. So basically the opposite of this thread.

My biggest ever disappointment was Gary Gygax's Necropolis for 3e D&D. The 3e statting was appalling and we had to abandon the adventure. Conversely I loved Gygax's Yggsburgh as a sandbox setting.
 

R_J_K75

Legend
2 boxed sets that really stood out for me were Empires of the Shining Sea and Lands of Intrigue. Matter of fact, a good portion of the late 90s TSR Forgotten Realms run where Dale Donovan and Steven Schend wrote were top notch. Not perfect by any stretch but I don't think that aside from the3E FRCS, they haven't put out anything matching that quality in FR since. The main reason I liked those books so much was besides the 1E Empires of the Sands it was mostly new material in an interesting part of the realms not detailed much up until that point.
 

pemerton

Legend
Two games have really caught me by surprise.

One is Prince Valiant. I backed the Kickstarter to re-publish it because of its, and Greg Stafford's, fame. I ran a session for my group, initially just envisaging a one-off. And discovered it's an amazing game, in my view better than Pendragon despite the latter being the one with the reputation.

The other is Torchbearer 2e. I bought it because I was curious, and because I tend to buy most things Burning Wheel.

Then I read it and was amazed by the colour: https://www.enworld.org/threads/torchbearer-2nd-ed-first-impressions.685558/

Then I played it: https://www.enworld.org/threads/torchbearer-2e-actual-play-of-this-awesome-system.691233/
 

pemerton

Legend
My biggest ever disappointment was Gary Gygax's Necropolis for 3e D&D.
I have the original version (Mythus - is that the system name?). Times two, in fact - I must have picked it up second hand twice, having forgotten the second time that I already had it.

I've never really tried to make sense of it. Is it any good in that version?

I'm not sure what my biggest disappointment is - I've bought plenty of dodgy RPGs books over the years - but maybe some of the early 90s ICE modules for RM had a big gap between what I hoped for (and what the covers often would promise) and what I got.

Another one like that was the 3E adventure Expedition to the Demonweb Pits. An unmitigated shocker, in my view.
 

My biggest surprise of recent years was Hunter: The Reckoning, 5th edition.

Sadly it was not a good surprise.

Given it was called Hunter: The Reckoning, not Hunter: New Subtitle, I had kind of assumed it'd be primarily about or at least strongly support, Reckoning style Hunters. It does not. They aren't even really an option, because the powers just don't really cover that. But that's kind of not the biggest or worst surprise, rather that would be that, instead of having the specific, defined powers and abilities that make WoD books (new or old) sing, it offers a bunch of totally generic powers, which you have to then skin as the abilities you actually want, even if the mechanics aren't a great match. That's just terrible and utterly flavourless, abandoning what actually made both WoD systems so successful. A secondary surprise is that, setting-wise, it goes extremely hard with the rather bizarre choice that there are loads of actual companies and equipment manufacturers you can hire/buy from to deal with the supernatural, and they're not the downmarket dubious ones of our world, but rather quite successful and serious businesses. That recontextualizes the whole business of being a hunter, and indeed I'd argue recontextualizes the WoD even, pushing it considerably more towards a sort of Shadowrun-style deal, where instead of the Masquerade being largely successful, most people are at least suspicious that "monsters are real" (and for more than 50 seconds!). That and other aspects do make it feel more "modern" setting-wise. It feels 2020s, not dated - but they also make it not really feel like it's WoD thing, and the rules contribute to that feeling.

I feel like they should have probably had two kind of hunter if they wanted to do this, proper Reckoning-style with the actual Reckoning-style powers (to the same extent 5th vampires have Masquerade powers and so on), and non-powered hunters, rather than this messy half-way house.
 

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