Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rating Horror RPGs

I finished up my History of Horror RPGs series last week (with 2010-2011), and now I want to take some time to look at that information. In particular I'm curious about what gamers think are the best games or those that stand the test of time. I have my own thoughts on that which I will tackle in another post. Today I want to look at one measure, the ratings of games and products on RPG Geek. Users with an account can track their collection or just go through and rate games. There are so many games, it is worth tacking those by particular rpg lines (at least that's how I did it). It isn't a perfect measure, but it is a good starting point. So here's where things stand as of today.

These cover broadly the highest rated "games"- systems or lines of rpgs.
  1. Call of Cthulhu
  2. Trail of Cthulhu
  3. Deadlands
  4. Unknown Armies
  5. World of Darkness
  6. Vampire Dark Ages
  7. Eclipse Phase
  8. Vampire the Masquerade
  9. InSpectres
  10. Deadlands Hell on Earth
Two of the RPGs on this list actually have several editions appear. The CoC RPG entry covers 2e-6e, because those various versions are fairly close together. CoC 1e appears a little further down the list, but I left it off for this. Several distinct editions of the Deadlands rpg appear in the top as well- but I left in only the highest rated of those, the 2nd revised edition. I left Deadlands: HoE on the list as it feels like a pretty different game (Western vs. Post-Apocalypse). If you drop that then The Savage World of Solomon Kane would be at #10. I'm surprised about the WW choices on the list. I thought one or more of those would be up there. Some of the other biggie horror favorites like Ghostbusters and Kult aren't on their either. 

RPG Items
These are the top ten rated horror RPG Items on RPG Geek. These are actual physical items which can be owned- a subset of the abstract data container of RPGs.  
  1. Delta Green
  2. Delta Green Countdown
  3. Masks of Nyarlethotep
  4. I6: Ravenloft
  5. Call of Cthulhu 6e
  6. Beyond the Mountains of Madness
  7. Trail of Cthulhu
  8. Unknown Armies 2e
  9. Armitage Files
  10. Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Chaos
As above, I've had to consolidate Call of Cthulhu. The various editions of the core books show up in the top- I've only included the highest rated instance. All told, the Cthulhu Mythos takes 7 of the top 10 positions, with Call of Cthulhu taking up five of those. That Trail of Cthulhu makes such a strong showing for a young game is impressive. Equally impressive is Delta Green's commanding lead.

If we remove Cthulhu materials from the list, then the top ten horror rpg items are:
  1. I6: Ravenloft
  2. Unknown Armies 2e
  3. Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Chaos
  4. Deadlands: Reloaded
  5. Ravenloft Campaign Setting
  6. Eclipse Phase Corebook
  7. InSpectres
  8. Dread
  9. Dark*Matter Campaign Setting
  10. Don't Rest Your Head
In this case I skipped two other Deadlands core books of lower rating (original and second edition). I also skipped the second volume of Realms of Chaos, which would have come in at #10. There's an interesting diversity to these non-Lovecraftian choices. Ravenloft rightly assumes a position of prominence. There's a lot of love of TSR products. But a number of interesting new horror approaches show up here which pleases me. The odd man out feels like the Dark*Matter Campaign Setting. Clear I need to see what the fuss is around that. But the weirdest thing is the absence of anything by White Wolf on that list. I had to go down another dozen or so items before I found one, The World of Darkness core book. I think that reflects a general like or love of the concepts of the WW rpgs, but less of an attachment to any particular book or volume.

Obviously these ratings come with a lot of caveats. We can generally see the Board Game Geek ratings as useful because of the number of users who have rated the games. The pool of RPG Geek users is smaller and the number who have taken the time to rate games is even smaller than that. There's a strong indie bent on the site, combined with a nostalgia for classic TSR modules. Games with strong company boards (Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons 4e, White Wolf products, Legend of the Five Rings) don't perhaps get attention and interest in proportion to their importance and market share. Still I think it is an interesting indicator- and it will get better as more people add their own ratings. Consider doing that it you have time- I like being able to track my collection through the site and have found many new games by scanning ratings and genres. If you set up a new RPG Geek account to rate things, send me a note and I'll try to give you some Geekgold (used to buy an avatar and badges).


  1. I'm looking back at your prior posts in this series: Did you do a review of the D&D 3.5E version of "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft" (2006)? I liked 2 out of 4 of the "Expedition" series WotC did (Ravenloft and Demonweb Pits; whereas Undermountain and Greyhawk had a cruder, more rushed-to-production feel to them--i.e. the maps were quite a bit more rudimentary).

    The "Expedition" series was exactly the sort of thing I'm happy to pay for: Medium-small, detailed settings full of stats, rather than large, "nation-scale", text-y descriptions of geography and politics and things that will rarely actually concern low- to medium-level PCs. (The whole TSR-era treatment of "Forgotten Realms" suffered from this problem, for example. It also was one of the big flaws in most of the "Gazetteer" books, which you also reviewed, I think.)

    And "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft" was really terrific, I think. It made copious mentions of previous editions. It earned *real* cred with me by actually sketching out how to use the book with D20 Modern (breaking with WotC's apparent policy of "never, ever, ever admit that D20 Modern existed"). It had maps up the wazoo (I believe you posted them)

    1. Should have added: Crucially for me, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft separately described each of the 50-some crypts in the basement of the castle in enormous detail. AND, in an act of real writing talent, described a still deeper level, accessible through one of the oldest of the crypts, composed of caves carved by burrowing, blood-drinking insect-like creatures. In these caves' heart is a crude altar to their obscure blood-god. The final implication being that the 'dark foundations' of Ravenloft predate even than Strahd and the Von Zarovich family himself. Good stuff.

  2. I believe you're correct with the considerably fewer ratings of companies/games with a strong company board. As a huge WW fan I'm often taken aback at how few products are actually rated by more than... say five people. I'm traying to rate the games I own on RPGGeek but as I read them mostly back in the days I have to reread them - and that takes away from my preparation time for my ongoing chronicle. *Sigh*

  3. Broken record time here, but I have never had as much playing playing in a horror game as I did with Chill, and running one using Unhallowed Metropolis. I know both systems are flawed, but I think what it comes down to is setting and a group that genuinely wants to engage with the scarier aspects of horror RPGs.