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What is your biggest RPG heartbreak?

John Dallman

More than a little weird so many peeps are saying "4e." Think most gamers would be thrilled to have a game that got half as many books as 4th Ed got. Even without counting all the online content.
If the core of the game doesn't work for you, add-ons for it are pointless. I bought the 4e three-volume set, started reading it, and realised rapidly that I didn't want to play it, at all. I gave it away; if I'd been given all the add-ons, I'd have given them away too.

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Vampire: The Masquerade Revised, and the Revised editions of World of Darkness in general, are the biggest actual "heartbreak" in TT RPGs for me.

Not because they were particularly bad, nor that we didn't play them, but because they were just nowhere near as good as we'd hoped. I mean, my brother and I were super-hyped prior to Revised. We thought this would finally be the WoD system that fixed all the little issues and annoyances and even some of the bigger problems, maybe even bring the increasingly-dated-seeming setting up to date a bit, because that's basically what the writers said it would do. We ended up pre-ordering two of the fanciest copies of the corebook set for VtM Revised, at what was great expense for whenever it was (1998 maybe?). And... meh. It didn't fix much at all. It made the setting more boring and dull. It attempted to "crack down" on people "doing it wrong" gameplay-wise, and reinforced that by insisting on various lore changes that made vampires more "walking corpses" (which was very much against the zeitgeist, whereas WW had basically sailed the seas of zeitgeist, and very successfully). Even the art wasn't as good as the 2E line, and had a less consistent vibe.

It was notable that when a decade or so later, the 20th-anniversary editions came out, they basically ignored the lore changes from the Revised editions (for the most part, though a couple made weird decisions of their own), and featured actually-improved mechanics.

So that was the biggest heartbreak, because we were so invested in it being great, and it was profoundly "meh".

Next biggest after that would be Cyberpunk V3, because Cyberpunk 2020 was getting a bit dated by the early '00s, arguably by the late '90s, both in mechanics and in details, and R. Talsorian/Mike Pondsmith seemed weirdly disinterested in doing anything about it. Finally we hear about Cyberpunk V3 and we're cautiously excited (Cybergeneration was kind of cool in a weird way so wasn't really disappointing), but what we actually got? A really "far-out" post-Cyberpunk setting which wasn't either believable, compelling, or connected to our world, with epically bad art (photographs of action figures, literally) and visual design. The mechanics were also not particularly good. Cyberpunk RED pretty much has the setting we were hoping for 15 years ago, i.e. an updated and actually more-playable version of the 2020 setting. It also has not-great rules by 2021 standards, but only mildly so, and if we'd got it in 2005, it'd have been amazing.

Finally, D&D 3E.

That might seem ironic in certain ways, including that it caused this site to exist, but as excited as I was before it came out, as we got closer to release, and post-release, decisions I felt were "bad" just increasingly started to pile up, and of all the editions my group really played, 2E through 5E, it's the ones we spent least gaming time on, by far (even if we including PF1 as the same thing), and the one we had the least actual fun whilst playing, which was largely because of the kind of characters and style of play we had (which tended towards martials and stunt-y).

4E not lasting as long as it could have was a disappointment, but one significantly mitigated by the fact that by then, the indie RPG scene was considerably more exciting, and also 4E itself mitigated it a bit by making it so it was increasingly less fun to play at levels above about 11, as more and more Immediate and Interrupt and Reaction and so on stuff came in and bogged combat back down to 3E levels of time-taken. If they could have kept the fun of 4E 1-10 at all levels I'd have been a hell of a lot more disappointed.

The funniest disappointment will always be Champions: The New Millennium, a FUZION-based re-working of Champions, which superficially seemed like it might be a great superhero game, ditching the problem HERO/Champions had of always feeling like a fairly serious squad-combat game that happened to feature superheroes, but keeping much of the flexibility (it was 1997, cut us a break!), with more accessible mechanics.

Except as it turns out they were just as bad, but in a different way.

We took something like 5 hours to run a combat which, in-setting, took maybe 3 minutes, and just was a spectacularly knock-down drag-out fight. Sure it was four supers vs six serious villains, but good freaking lord. It just went on and on and on endlessly, and the fact that everyone got different numbers of actions at different times in the round (something inherited from HERO trying to "simulate" speedsters - which in retrospect was dumb as hell because that's not how speedsters work in comics) really massively contributed to the bogging down everything. The fight was a hell of thing, but it would be basically one issue of a comic book, if the entire issue was one long fight. It was one of those games where you did like different damage with different modifiers with different moves and stuff and created all sorts of analysis paralysis situations. I'd expected the whole thing to take maybe 2-3 hours tops, including the rest of the adventure and another, smaller fight.

It remains the only time my group has ever said "We are never playing this system again..." after a single session.

The Americana RPG. I backed it on Kickstarter and when it arrived, it was everything I could've hoped for and more. I go to my one gaming group and said that I'd like to take a break from D&D that summer and run a short campaign of Americana (by nature, its campaigns are short). Everyone was on-board except for one player who said "if you want to run this, I'll just sit the game out." This player is a longtime friend and a backbone player, so I couldn't bring myself to run it knowing he was just going to drop out for the duration.

I'm in the 4e boat.

I started gaming with AD&D and BECMI in the early '80s. Played until around 2005 using various editions of D&D and other games (mostly GURPS and Call of Cthulhu). Then started a new career and a family and moved to a new state all at the same time. Gaming fell away for a while.

In 2011, students at my middle school wanted to launch a role-playing game club. I managed to get funding to buy the latest rulebooks and dove in with the students. For two years we tried to make it work, but most of the kids and I just didn't get it. To me, it felt like it was trying to be a video game with so many ability timers and whatnot. Also, requiring grid-based tactical combat wasn't great for a school environment. I kept scratching my head, wondering whether I had "outgrown" ttrpgs altogether. The hilarious thing is that I wasn't at all engaged with gamers on social media at the time. Had no idea that there were "wars" going on virtually over the edition. Didn't know what Pathfinder was.

When 5e came out, the school wasn't ready to pitch in for new books again, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go in that direction because of my experience with 4e. I bought it myself, though, and thought it was much better. Ran a few campaigns with friends and family. Ultimately, though, I realized that I preferred the advantage/disadvantage/skill model of GURPS, so I ported things to GURPS 4e (which had come out during my gaming hiatus) and have been mostly playing that ever since. Still keep up with the 5e material and occasionally play and run games with it.

The ironic coda to this tale is that when the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game came out in 2017 (a GURPS boxed set for D&D-style dungeoneering) I was able to convince my school to dive in and purchase four copies. I was worried that the GURPSy elements would be too complex for middle-schoolers, but that proved to be untrue. We've been running with it ever since. It's a bit ironic that I had a harder time teaching kids to play D&D4 than this GURPS offshoot. (Since GURPS has a reputation for being "complex.")

It wasn't until recently that I've become more interested in looking back at the 4e material again. I hear enough people around here chiming in about things that they liked about it that I'm curious if I didn't give it enough of a chance.

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
I'm currently in one of my collecting moods, and the number of RPG manuals on my bookshelf is experiencing a sharp upswing, so right at the moment my biggest RPG heartbreak is the number of times in the past that I've pruned my collection (and how much more it costs to purchase those selfsame rulebooks or adventure modules on Ebay today vs. when I first acquired them).


I'm currently in one of my collecting moods, and the number of RPG manuals on my bookshelf is experiencing a sharp upswing, so right at the moment my biggest RPG heartbreak is the number of times in the past that I've pruned my collection (and how much more it costs to purchase those selfsame rulebooks or adventure modules on Ebay today vs. when I first acquired them).
Yup. So much seller's remorse.


David Jose
The GM and the other players really psyching me up to play RIFTS. Never played it before, and they kept pushing it as this great game. So I did my reading, got excited to play, etc. The GM even let me play a werewolf PC at the start, which I thought could be pretty awesome. Got my PC created and we started our first session.

The rest of the players had a Glitter Boy, Juicer, etc. And I had this PC who at best might be able to do 1d4 MDC while everyone else was going crazy. I was literally just a cheerleader on the sideline, as if I got into combat, I died right away.

Yes, I understand this was a failure on the GM's part, but it forever tainted RIFTS for me, and I will always have that bad first impression for a game I was excited to play at first.
I absolutely love the setting of Rifts. I have never ever ever come across a game that someone else was running however that sat well with me.

The first time I ever tried a play by post forum game, it was a Rifts Atlantis "Splugorth prison break" game. For those not familiar, they're one of the introductory bad guy "cover of the base book" monsters. A race of interdimensional slavers who live in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, who capture people and perform terrifying turn-them-into-monsters experiments on them.

The GM told us to all make our characters separately, but to make sure that we focused on role-play over roll-play because he wanted interesting characters, not just gonzo over the top powers and combat abilities.

So I used the "make a Splugorth monster" rules and made a super depressed human sculptor who had been captured by the Splugorth and had his arms lopped off and replaced with sentient lobster claws.

Intro session, the rest of the party goes supernova (if I remember correctly it was Mecha-godzilla, a Scarecrow/Burster (immune to any damage but fire/pyrokinetic psychic who is immune to all fire damage, and Kitt, the car from Knightrider). They level the prison, free all the slaves, sink most of the island, and completely murderlate all of the evil slaver monsters before my character has even had a chance to mope around and sigh dramatically.

I didn't bother sticking around for the rest of the campaign.


My limited knowledge of Rifts (I've never played the Palladium version, though I have read their sourcebooks for inspiration when running it in Savage Worlds) suggests that a GM needs to be very careful about the power level and make sure that you don't get Glitter Boys and regular "MARS" characters in the same party, at least not without taking that into account with the adventure design.


Shortly after 3E came, when the 3PP publishing glut was starting there was a book announced. I believe it was called Windhaven and its description sounded like Waterdeep part 2. I thought this seemed great and would be a perfect book to supplement a campaign set in Waterdeep or use as is. The art was really nice and I think there were a few previews as well. But the website always said coming soon, and I checked for updates every few weeks to a month and nothing ever materialized and eventually after a few years the website was nuked. I wonder happened and why it never made it to market? At the time it was announced it seem a good deal of work was already finished.


My biggest rpg heartbreak happened with Star Frontiers. I was really into the d100 system and the primary plus secondary skill builds. I hand drew many new equipments, robot models, ships. Bought several official modules. I was designing a BIG space opera campaign. This is going to be great!

After two games the players didn't like the game and told me unequivocally they wanted to play AD&D instead. The first heartbreak is always the hardest. I've had RPG rejection in later years but it didn't hurt that much. I DMed AD&D but wasn't really into it. Took me several months to get back on my feet.

What is your biggest RPG heartbreak?

[edit: typos]
Tasselhoff Burrfoot in one of the 1E Dragon Lance adventures falling off a good dragon during an ariel battle over the city of sanction and landing in a Lava river so his body could not be recovered and raised.


It would have to be 4e D&D for me I guess, only because unlike pretty much all the other systems I am really not into, I kept getting roped back into it.

The only actual play podcast I stuck with for years (Critical Hit) played it until very recently. Mountains of "You just played it wrong" arguments online. The fact that I am the kind of person who likes to be able to find enjoyment in all sorts of games. Whatever else, somehow converged to keep bringing me back to a game that in the end just isn't any of the things I want from ttrpgs, and each time I noticed more things I don't like. Coupled with the attitudes I later read about from the advertising, and the behaviour of it's fans, it just kinda got pushed into a different category than other games which I generally can only get worked up enough to say "meh" or "not something I would want to play all the time".

ETA; Burning wheel :oops:

The Lizard Wizard

I played a Kenku dragon-blood sorcerer a few years back which was a lot of fun, but just as he was starting to come into his own (around level 6 or 7) our DM wanted to make the switch to Traveller, and so his story line ended with being stuck as a prisoner to a bunch of Yuan-Ti.

The idea for the character was based around the idea that at level 14 a dragon-blood sorcerer can sprout wings, thus breaking the part of the Kenku's curse that stops them flying. Not that I ever expected to make it to level 14. It was just a bit heartbreaking to have to retire the character I cared so much about.


My limited knowledge of Rifts (I've never played the Palladium version, though I have read their sourcebooks for inspiration when running it in Savage Worlds) suggests that a GM needs to be very careful about the power level and make sure that you don't get Glitter Boys and regular "MARS" characters in the same party, at least not without taking that into account with the adventure design.
I always started Rifts in or around Chi-Town so that super-powerful beings had to stay under the radar or get hosed pretty quickly. I always wanted to do a True20 Rifts game because I think that system had enough flexibility to run a fair amount of items (once I simplified the damage track).
For me True20 is my heartbreak. I'd love to run Star Wars or a Rifts clone but it was too much for my OSR group or not enough w/the 3rd edition group.


Dying in Chargen
I always started Rifts in or around Chi-Town so that super-powerful beings had to stay under the radar or get hosed pretty quickly.
Chi-town burbs were a good adventure area, I played a lot of Rifts from mid-90's to mid-2000's; usually we kept the imbalance more to have the powerful RCC/OCC's be foes, and not PC's. That said we had a lot of fun, stuff like Juicer, Mind-Melter, etc. taking a Triax dimensional bathysphere to Worm Wood to find a magic flute that would lead the Gargoyles out of Europe; or a baby dragon, ley line walker, taking on Archie at Aberdeen.


The shortest RIFTS campaign had us locked in a secret mountain vault in the NGR controlled by a nuclear powered brain. Couldn't roll to figure out how to get out so I shot it. Nuked us all only an hour in a half in.
Good times.

Being in a campaign for 3 years and being 5 or 6 sessions from completing the main story line with 16th level characters (the highest I ever played) and then 2 people moved away. We never got to finish.
Old-School Essentials, maybe. While my players haven’t demanded we do something else (yet?), there have been a few comments on the lack of options or the (in)capability of their characters. That’s why we’re giving Worlds Without Numbers a try in a few weeks. It has more of the stuff they like while still being GM friendly and OSR-adjacent. Of course, that could also turn out to be another RPG heartbreak. Hopefully not because I’m running out of ideas for things that would make everyone happy. 😓
I have been playing World Without Numbers on and off for the last few months. Our group absolutely loves it. We are doing a rotating DM thing so I’m not sure if it’s the game itself that I love or if it’s the DM who is running it. I love the toned down stat bonuses, the carrying capacity rules or the hit point/stress system.

have fun with it!


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I once ran a game with 12 players plus henchman. And if anyone else dropped by they would have been more than welcome to play.
Curios, did you ask for player buy-in for that many? When the DM needs to divide their attention that many ways, work in character arcs for that many characters, when combat is soooo long between actions. That impacts them greatly as well.

I probably would have skipped on a 12 player game.

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