Mad Jay's Fantasy RPG stack.

My go-to shortlist for fantasy role-playing games.

Sometimes I just want a cheesy pepperoni pizza. That’s it. Nothing stuffed, no special crust, no chicken, or fancy BBQ sauce. Regular, greasy, cheesy pepperoni pizza. And nothing else will do. In fact, a local mom & pop pizzeria beats out a chain pizza shop when I’m in this mood.

And so it is with gaming.

That Deep Chicago Style.

When I want a medium to a long campaign of character-driven fantasy gaming, Burning Wheel is what I’ll reach for. It handles a GM pitch as well as a group collab setting and premise. It’s got a baked-in Lord of the Rings feel without the deep setting and lore. You could for sure play in Middle Earth - or you can roll your own setting. Heck, I know a guy that has started games from the Forgotten Realms lore. This game requires a commitment and rewards system mastery. No half-steppers. No hacking required and contrary to belief -you don’t have to use Fight! for every combat. This game always delivers for me. Prepare the premise set those beliefs and instincts, serve while hot. Fills me right up.

That Folded NY-style.

When I need it fast, hot, and oozing down my arm, make mine B/X D&D. Simple rules, everybody knows it or can quickly get in, add whatever you please. I dial up the lethality, turn on gold for XP like adding peppers and parmesan to taste. I can run large groups with ease especially if I use player-facing defense checks. I’m a sandbox, point crawl zealot. And I run shameless, with no screen. Just dropping those dice right there on the table raw while I’m watching reactions. Easy for short or long campaigns, even one-shots. I love this game when it’s visceral, frenetic —just like a New York minute.

Anti-pasta?

Man, I wish. I’m still trying out stuff for that middle game system. Something that rocks for me that is in between BW and BX. I dig Symbaroum, but that’s in my B/X box, I run it very much the same. Maybe this space is all about those specific experience games. Torchbearer does a very specific thing, so does the Crown, Sword and Unspeakable Oath, and Spire -good games, but different, specific experiences. I’m playing The One Ring now, six sessions so far. It is setting specific, opinionated about its characters, journeys, and what constitutes an adventure. I’m about to take Whitehack out for a run to see what I see. I got nothing in the middle. I feel like this middle ground game would probably be a Powered-by-the-Apocalypse game. Those playbooks get you up and going fast, and they also allow for some interesting long-term play. Dungeon World isn’t it. So the hunt is on! I’ll let you know how the Whitehack works out for me. We start a 5-6 session run of it in November.

What’s your fantasy RPG stack look like?