What TTRPG read badly but played great for you?

Reynard

Legend
Sometimes rules just sound bad. Or the book is not very clear. Or the art doesn't match the game vibe. Whatever the case, it occasionally happens that a game "reads bad" but ends up being very fun in actual play.

Do you have a game where this was the case? What game? What "looked bad" about it and how did actually playing it change your mind?

For me, it was Blades in the Dark. I did not like anything about the system (I had little experience with PbtA games and none of it good) as it was explained in the book. But, once I had a chance to play it with a competent GM, I changed my mind completely. I actually prefer Scum and Villainy from a thematic perspective, but generally I like FitD games a lot now.
 
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I remember reading Avalon Hill's Lords of Creation and just boggling at it. Everything from the layout to the art to the overall tone left me wondering what they were thinking. It felt like it was a design from at least half a decade before its actual 1983 release date, and not a particularly good one at that. Certainly far below the production quality I'd come to expect from AvHill's wargames or the James Bond RPG, much less their edition of Runequest.

Then I got to play the game with a GM who really knew how to embrace the gonzo aspects of the game and realized it could actually be pretty fun with the right table and an "it's just a game, relax" attitude. The mechanics were still as meh as meh can be, but they stayed out of the way enough to let you marvel at the rest of the nonsense going on. Still has the craziest "monster manual" of any game I've owned, makes Rifts look tame.

Compare that to Powers & Perils, which released simultaneously, was even more off-putting on first (and second, and subsequent) reading, and turned out to be even more awkward and unmanageable in the handful of sessions I played in. I know it's got its fans to this day, but for me it's a night-and-day contrast with LoC in terms of play value.

Both of them were total flops sales-wise though, and wound up in discount bins for years afterward. The cover from the last issue of The Fantasy Gamer was cruel, but fairly prophetic about AvHill's experiences with the RPG market. 1991's Tales From the Floating Vagabond didn't exactly light the world on fire either. RQ3 and Bond were more successful, but I'd be surprised if they were ever as profitable as their board game range was.

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payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Forbidden Lands. Its a great blend of modern and OSR play. I liked the mechanics for the style it aimed at and think FL hit the mark. It's setting and flavor is really bad though. There is a hint of long lost mysteries to solve which lends well to adventuring. However, there is a mountain of animosity amongst the races. Everyone absolutely hates each other to the point of fighting to the death on sight which leaves no real room for mixed parties to work in any but the shortest terms. This really hurt my initial read of the game and gives me pause joining one in event a GM leans into it.
 

However, there is a mountain of animosity amongst the races. Everyone absolutely hates each other to the point of fighting to the death on sight which leaves no real room for mixed parties to work in any but the shortest terms. This really hurt my initial read of the game and gives me pause joining one in event a GM leans into it.
Not to mention the religious and cultural divisions with the same species, and the general fear & loathing of magic. Many GMs will treat PCs as exceptions to the usual hatreds using the common "adventurers are oddballs" trope, but that doesn't help much with NPCs who still want to burn the goblin/orc/elf/whatever PC at the stake. Works okay when you back off on the general ism-related nastiness a bunch, though - but I know people who insist that ruins the flavor of the setting.

Me, I still find it unreasonably annoying that there's a class specifically devoted to riding a horse (or wolf, if you're a goblin) and very little in the way of rules support for mounted combat. Like, what happens when you fall off your mount or it gets killed out from under you. That's a weird omission for a game with a lot of other detail in it. Could have found the page space easily enough by simply not printing all the artifacts twice...
 


Y'know, this is surprisingly hard for me to find examples of, hence my going back to an obscure flop from my high school days. IME the vast majority of the time a game that reads bad plays bad too, or even manages to be outright unplayable. Looking at you, Realm of Yolmi.

There's also a depressing number of games that read really well and then fail hard on the table and become shelf-sitters collecting dust until the next great purge.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
Rolemaster (with the exception of Rolemaster Express). I still don't want to run Rolemaster (again, with the exception of Rolemaster Express), but the first time I looked at Rolemaster (first edition) when my friend said that he wanted to run it, my eyes glazed over and I'm pretty sure my soul left my body. BUT it ended up being one of my favorite all-time RPG experiences. My friend knew the rules pretty well and he handed out photocopies of the weapon critical charts to the players whose characters wielded said weapons (which really aided combat resolution).
 

Celebrim

Legend
In my experience the better the rules read the more disappointed I am in them in actual play (GURPS, Mouseguard), while games that I have loved in play like 1e AD&D, 3e Gamma World, Call of Cthulhu (any edition prior to 7e), and Star Wars D6 are objectively just a mess in presentation and coherence by modern standards. The only game I have loved to read and loved to play is 3e D&D.

That said I didn't really pick up on just how badly written 1e AD&D, 3e GW, or CoC were at the time because I really had no standards or expectations about how rules should be organized or designed.

The only example I can therefore really pick is Pathfinder 1e, which I knew going into it was mostly 3e with even more warts but was slightly surprised to find it played pretty smoothly anyway at least through the sort of low levels of play I was used to playing. How it would likely play 13th level is likely as bad as 3e D&D RAW, but that didn't come up because we never made it that far.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Rolemaster (with the exception of Rolemaster Express). I still don't want to run Rolemaster (again, with the exception of Rolemaster Express), but the first time I looked at Rolemaster (first edition) when my friend said that he wanted to run it, my eyes glazed over and I'm pretty sure my soul left my body. BUT it ended up being one of my favorite all-time RPG experiences. My friend knew the rules pretty well and he handed out photocopies of the weapon critical charts to the players whose characters wielded said weapons (which really aided combat resolution).

Yeah, I can imagine enjoying playing RM, but I can't imagine enjoying running RM. shudder
 


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