What TTRPG Defied Your Expectations (in a good way)?


Sometimes we see a game and don't think much of its potential. maybe it is a licensed game that appears to have been connected to the wrong system. Maybe it is just a weird genre choice. Maybe it just has bad production values or an art style that turns you off. Or maybe you just dismiss it for no good reason at all.

But then you get a chance to play it or read through it and it changes your mind. Despite your initial reservations, you end up really liking it. It defied your expectations, in a good way.

This thread is about those games.

One big one for me was d20 Modern. I liked 3E fine but I was highly skeptical that the D&D chassis could do any sort of decent modern gaming, especially sicne I had played plenty of other games that could (particularly "generic" games like Hero or GURPS). But I ended up really liking the way d20 Modern was designed -- I like the base classes in particular -- and thought the aesthetics of the settings associated with it were really great. These days d20 is a little heavier and more fiddly than I would like to deal with, but I think d20 Modern largely holds up and with a few tweaks to bring it in line with some of the d20 design advances since then, it could still be viable.

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Not a RPG but the dice game Tenzi. It is simple to learn and play but really fun and chaotic with the kids. I bought it 10 years ago and still play at scout game nights and with my daughter.


Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
D20 Modern for me too. I should look at at Everyday Heroes; I’d love to see a full fantasy version, and would expect to prefer it to D&D.

Let’s see, what else… HeroQuest/QuestWorlds took a looong time to click for me. Now it’s a favorite. Same with Risus, with my finally realizing it doesn’t have to be goofy, and that Uresia is an amazing setting.
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He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I was part of a group that sort of became game of the month club. We had a foray into Forbidden Lands. At first glance it looked like an old school style RPG. Though, the setting was very off putting. Humans caused some type of dark miasma across all the land that has now dissipated. So, its rife with mystery and places to explore, but all the races absolutely hate each other. Everybody hates humans, Orcs hate elves too or more because they betrayed them against the humans. Halfelves exist because elves and humans "exchange hostages to keep from going to war" etc.. So, right out the gun it makes zero sense to have a mixed race party in the setting.

The game mechanics, however, proved to be a fresh take on the old school approach. It promoted skill play without everything being imbalanced and/or GM arbitrary. I really like its resource management system based on die size and that the penalties for being out of things were interesting and didnt only include death. The die pool mechanic that allows a push for risk reward is exactly the kind of thing I like in an old school system. I'd play FL anytime, as long as the setting was jettisoned, of course.

Cthulhu d20. My expectations fro d20 systems was very low at that time. I was doubly suspicious of a d20 Cthulhu. But wanted to run Cthulhu and was having a hard time getting players at that time to switch from anything that wasn't related to 3E. The book was a pleasant surprise (the flavor, the GM advice, the way it used the d20 system to do Cthulhu----in practice I found it worked quite well)

Tony Vargas

4e D&D - expected D&D, but got a balanced game, playable at all levels, that was easy to run. :oops:

HoL - parody, but actually a workable system
Serenity - licensed game, but neat little system
Ysgarth - early D&D knockoff, but flashes of brilliance and unique takes on balancing multi-classed characters.
Champions - Superhero game, but obviously a universal system in the rough from the get-go

Obviously, lowered expectations help.


I consider myself and over cautious purchaser and tend to over-research a TTRPG before I invest in it - even sometimes hanging out in the forums dedicated to it to gauge what folks are saying. So it's quite rare when I buy one that it doesn't meet my expectations and not defy them.
The one that came closest to defying my expactions in a good way was Mythras. I'd be reading and hearing about RuneQuest 6 a year or so before Mythras released. So essentially being the same system with the serial numbers filed off, I had a fairly good idea with what I'd be getting. But having the book in hand, getting some players playing in an adventure and the dice rolling at the table, it proved to be better than I thought it would be.


Not your screen monkey (he/him)
5e. My expectations had been pretty dashed by 4e (after they had been raised by 3e) to the point I was no longer buying anything from WotC. But one of the big improvements for 5e was Wizards shedding the magic item economy that had bedeviled 3e and 4e. After 2 editions of it, I was worried it was too entrenched. But away it went, much to my delight. That and other improvements have made 5e my favorite version of D&D by far.
Granted, all of the run-up to 5e's release went a LONG way to building and setting my expectation (while 4e's run-up dashed the piss out of them), so it's not like it was an actual surprise when I bought the the Player's Handbook. But it sure was nice.
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Before I read Sword World, I expected it to be basically a fantasy heartbreaker D&D knock-off. Then when I read it, I found it to be a very different set of rules with a distinct aesthetic and an interesting, integrated setting. Still, when I read it, the character generation seemed baroque, and the combat seemed both inefficient and favoring magic over martial ability. But when I actually played it, character generation was easy, relatively fast, and yet interesting. Combat, also, was quick and exciting, and didn’t favor magic over martials at all.

Basically, Sword World makes very good use of silos to pare the game down to only what you need to know for your character, and what they can do in combat. So although the character sheet looks D&D 4e-complex, pregens can be provided on a 12 x 12 cm card.

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