The Top 36 RPGs I Played in 2020, in Alphabetical Order – Part Two (Conan to Fuck! It’s Dracula!)

I’ve managed to play a healthy amount of different RPGs this year, and here’s a continuation of my list of experiences I’ve had. Some of these games I’ve reviewed already and some either will get one later or might not.

Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of

Remi the GM to the left and Split, a friend I attended with, to the right.

This was a game I played at Airecon, mainly as I didn’t see anything that appealed, but this had two of my friends in it so when they went along, so did I. I’ve only read a bit of Conan, mainly to pitch Mongoose, back in the day. I didn’t get the job and I think my ambivalence to the license probably didn’t help.

Imhotep, a Petty Noble or a petty noble.

Conan was my first experience of the 2d20 system which is… fine. You roll 2d20’s and try to get equal to or under a skill rating. The GM, Remi, was incredibly well-versed in the world and while my friends spent a lot of time hyping up their ability to derail things, he kept the story moving and adapting to our decisions. The combat had some satisfying mechanics to play with, which I assume were specific to Conan to fit the pulp violence and bombast. Even as a vain noble, I was able to hold my own.

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit

The players on my extremely scrappy character keeper.

A last-minute addition to this list, I figured I’d run at least one game of Cyberpunk in 2020. It also wouldn’t be beset by as many of the problems as the video game version.

With about an hour to prep, I quickly went through the rules, made a character keeper and a rough idea for an adventure.

The group needed to sabotage a caravan park of indentured programmers out of Night City. They had to go to The Disc Hole, a Windows ‘95-themed nightclub, lift a tracker from the corporate failson Neonhoof, then find the convoy and deliver the people there ‘fireworks’. Things didn’t go entirely as planned, but fun was had, along with some violence. My main issues were a couple of things relating to fights which sound like they’ve been ironed out just a little for the main release, going from the Jumpstart’s “Thursday Night Throwdown” to “Friday Night Firefight”. Cyberpunk Red is due out soon in the UK, but preorders are sold out almost everywhere. At some point I’ll probably still get it, even though for the time being I’ll be wanting to use Hack the Planet or Hard Wired Island when that gets released.

Deadlands: The Weird West

The posse all up to no good.

My Adventures in Middle Earth group finished their campaign and started to discuss what to play next. I admit a certain amount of intent to make sure it wasn’t D&D again, otherwise I’d just bow out. As part of this cunning plan, just as National Novel Writing Month started, I talked myself into running the new edition of Deadlands. This meant a lot of distracting myself from novel preparation by reading Savage Worlds Adventure Edition and the new Deadlands, as well as the awesome-looking sandbox campaign: Horror in Headstone Hill.

The last time I’d run Deadlands was the first edition and I was a massive fan of Doomtown. When it was announced that Pinnacle were retconning the problematic element of the continued existence of the Confederates (who lest we forget were a bunch of losers who lasted about as long as the Wii U). They literally pulled the old ‘a wizard did it’ to have someone affect time in their continuity and change things up.

I’m a few sessions in and my group have made some fantastic characters. I’ve got a blind gunfighter, a mad scientist with secret tentacle legs who travels by wheelchair, a half-deaf and all-insane miner, a shaman who wears the noose he used to hang see his father hung and a smooth-talking huckster with a bad reputation.

Sometimes you need a serious gang name, and sometimes you come up with ‘Benny Bones’ Boner Boys’.

A highlight for me was the first session where Rusty had his character, the aforementioned insane miner, threw dynamite at a bone fiend on the train the group were travelling on. He’d literally derailed the group in the first session as the locomotive moved on, leaving the passenger carriages behind. It would be a sign of things to come.

A couple of sessions in and they’re almost at the plot, having had a detour and a fatality. I’m compiling notes and will hopefully have a session report I can write up from this series.

Dishonored

My group were not this cool, but were still pretty cool.

This is a rare game I received a review copy of, and just as lockdown was starting. I tested the water for my group’s online play using Fuck! It’s Dracula!, but this was our first campaign. I put together a quick character keeper [>>>GAUNTLET KEEPERS] and ran the demo campaign for the group. It was supposed to last four sessions and ended up hitting about eleven.

Like Conan, it was a 2d20 game, but a slightly simpler version which did get a few revisions while I was running the game. Unlike Conan, it used a mix of a players’ approach and skill. This was a fun change and helped people frame their actions, although there were a few points where players were a little stumped.

Our campaign ended in a really grisly, brutal way, after helping to fight against the people who put them in prison and exploit the labour of their people. It ended with a chase, a toppled carriage and shooting their target point blank in the face. Most of the characters retired after that, not having the stomach for what they did. Still, it may have been gruesome but they managed to do what they set out to.

I think for me, the high point was that when the group asked to do all the side quests instead of just the minimum to advance the story, I had prompts of maybe a sentence to build heists around. Overall I enjoyed my time with the game, but if I ran a Dishonored game, I’d use Blades in the Dark. If you want something a bit more traditional, this may still be a bit fluffy for you (despite being mechanically less intricate than Blades), but is closer to what you want.

My review can be found here.

Fate of Cthulhu

The Roll20 setup for Fate of Cthulhu, plus a map of the station we were at.

The Fate RPG is one I feel is often unjustly-maligned. It often feels like indie players treat it like it was too crunchy and trad players think it’s too woolly. It does some interesting things and is a fantastic toolbox. Fate of Cthulhu is one of two Fate games I had on my RPG bucket list for 2020.

This version of Fate is a streamlining which ended up in the Fate Condensed which was released this year.

The premise is simple. An elder god has been summoned, ruining the world. That’s where it all begins. The group travelled back in time to stop the apocalypse. There are several premade campaigns with missions which the players need to go through, removing the components which will lead to the rise of the elder god in the question. Compared to normal Fate, you have Corrupted Aspects and Stunts which might help you in the short term, but lead to your eventual downfall. The hope is, of course, that you can fix the timestream before becoming a monster.

The game book is slickly written and acknowledges how terrible a human Lovecraft was early on. Like Fate Core and the rest of the books, it gets everything across simply. The Roll20 interface is similarly simple, as I bought one of the packages in order to run it online.

I only ran a one-shot, but the group adapted to Fate pretty quickly. The operation started as a quick surveillance of a train station and a little reminiscence of life with things like coffee shops and crowds. One of the group accidentally faked his way into being part of a group of skinheads looking to jump the person they were surveilling. In the end the person they were targeting tried to run away there was a massive chase through the underground and some strange magic called on by one of the group in order to save the day.

I want to run a campaign of FoC at some point, and after that I’ll write up my findings.

Fiasco in a Box

The game post-tilt.

I love Fiasco. It’s one of the first story games which really hooked me, although in story game terms it was a bit long in the tooth and from a time before safety tools. The new version of Fiasco came in a box and used a card-based engine to make the game’s setup easier, along with some of the trickier to teach elements of the gameplay.

Despite the lovely physicality of the new edition, I ran this digitally due to the lockdown. It came with a Roll20 version, so I ended up using that to tell a tale of suburban security and a desperate attempt to move a seedy windowless van from a public park. There was nakedness, an energy drink baptism and an ill-fated attempt to start an affair. I had one of my best friends and one of my most chaotic players joining me, which made for a perfect setup.

The game was shorter than a classic Fiasco, even with learning the rules and how to make the Roll20 version work. I’m already trying to work out how to use the blank Fiasco decks I’ve got to make a Eurovision-themed Fiasco.

You can read my review of the game here.

Final Girl: Game of Love

The cast of the Game of Love.

Final Girl is a slasher horror RPG where players make a selection of characters, a murderer and take turns playing the murderer or victims until there’s one person left; a Final Girl. In the Codex ‘zine, there was a hack of Final Girl called, ‘A Game of Love’, which repositioned it as a dating game show like The Bachelor. It worked perfectly, although it was difficult for my group to resist injuring the contestants.

The game was all safari-themed which meant a lot of animals to end up being part of the contests and the threats to everyone. As the game went on, there were some brutal group eliminations, some storm-offs and eventually the ‘Final Girl’ was actually someone who the bachelor had been in love with years ago and the pair eloped.

I’ve reviewed Final Girl here, so just imagine that but with dating.

For the Queen

A few of the cards from the game.

This was my first actual purchase on Roll20 for one shot play during lockdown. I hosted one game and joined another.

For the Queen is a fantastic tarot-style game where you draw a card, interpret the question and come up with an answer. You don’t make a character before play begins in For the Queen, instead your character (and the queen) come to life through the questions you’re answering. The ritual of it all is really interesting to see in action, and it was the first time I encountered the problem with digital play. My group all play through audio and the group I joined only had two of us with cameras on. In For the Queen there’s a kind of nonverbal moment you can see in a person who’s turn it is to answer questions. They’re done with people asking follow-up questions and you simply move on. Without that, people seemed to struggle, trying to keep asking questions and often either repeating themselves, asking things which were already answered or going off piste simply as they felt that they needed to fill that space. I ended up saying, “I think that’s it for me,” signalling that I was done unless there was something incredibly pertinent for people to answer with, which I might have to suggest when other people try the game.

I’ve reviewed For the Queen here.

Fuck! It’s Dracula!

The Bovine Bride of Dracula

Ah, my first lockdown game. This was my ‘proof of concept’ that using Google Drive and Discord would work. The group made characters in a science fiction backwater, investigating a coffin which appeared to fall from the sky. This was a one-page game which sprawled all over the place. The group rode the space coffin a couple of times and had to deal with vampire cows, one of whom was actually the wife of Dracula. He’d come here to pick her up and leave, so the group ended up reaching a fairly amicable agreement before leaving his spaceship and returning to their world.

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