Monday, October 12, 2009

My Top 20 Favorite RPG Companies Of All Time

What follows is a list of my Top 20 favorite RPG companies of all time. I looked at each candidate on the basis of customer service/public relations and product quality, but ultimately, my final decisions came down to how much enjoyment their products or efforts brought me. There are some companies on here that have fallen short now and again in one area or another, but each entry on this list has enhanced my enjoyment of the gaming hobby.

There were also some tough decisions; companies like Adventure Games Publishing, Fight On! Magazine, and Rogue Games have been nothing short of fantastic for me, but all of them are more recent in nature. I have no doubt one or more will appear on this list soon, but that’s for a later date—like some other companies, there are some longer-term question marks for now.

Here are my favorite RPG companies, in only the vaguest sort of ascending order:

20) Pinnacle: In the short time since I got into Savage Worlds, I have discovered a company that has one of the best publisher-supported gamer communities on the web. Savage Worlds is a blast, but the sheer amount of support for the game also nabs Pinnacle a spot on the list.

19) Atomic Sock Monkey: Besides having one of the best names on this list, they also produced Truth & Justice (my favorite supers RPG since FASERIP), and more recently, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. Great ideas, great publishing effort.

18) HinterWelt Enterprises: Aside from their strange fascination with squirrels, HinterWelt produced the excellent Roma Imperious (also available as the best setting for True20, hands-down). Very good, professional customer service seals the deal.

17) Flying Mice: Whenever I think of an interesting niche game idea, I first check to see if Flying Mice has tried it. More often than not, they have, it seems. In Harm’s Way, In Harm’s Way: Dragons!, Starcluster 2, On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service? We can forgive the plain formatting, because the material rocks that hard.

16) Precis Intermedia Games: Let’s see, Precis Intermedia has given me Two-Fisted Tales (my favorite pulp RPG), Disposable Heroes (a customizable, affordable way to do paper minis), and such games as Coyote Trail and Iron Gauntlers. It’s amazing to me that one little company could have this much diversity.

15) Noble Knight Games: Surprised to see an online RPG store on the list? If you know anything about Noble Knight Games, you shouldn’t be. They combine a massive catalog of titles with dependable, excellent customer service. Whether it’s trading in old games or looking for lost classics, NKG sets the bar for all other online RPG sellers.

14) Dark Matter Studios: Perhaps the best testament to Dark Matter and their phenomenal Epic Role Playing Game is that I use their random background charts in every fantasy game I run, regardless of system. With unique magic and a polished, sensible, rules-medium system, Dark Matter hit it out of the park on the first try with their game.

13) Reaper Miniatures: Visiting the Reaper booth at Gen Con Indy is one of the highlights of that show for me, as is getting their catalog. Pewter minis are just such a fun part of the hobby, and Reaper defines selection and excellence.

12) Troll Lord Games: TLG seems to lag on their release schedule at times, and it isn’t always smooth sailing. That said, their game of Castles & Crusades has re-ignited the spark of classical-style gaming for me, when one day it just “clicked”.

11) Palladium Books: Like Troll Lord Games, Palladium has had some bad moments and some misfires. It doesn’t change the fact that I have had as much or more fun with Rifts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Palladium Fantasy as I have with any game out there.

10) Paizo Publishing: Paizo has given my extended gaming circle more to talk about and to anticipate over the past two years than any other company on this list. They conducted an Open Beta of Pathfinder, kept pumping out awesome OGL modules, and have some of the best support and production values in the business.

9) Cumberland Games & Diversions: Risus. Encounter Critical. If S. John Ross never does another thing in his life, those two games would ensure Cumberland’s continual presence on this list.

8) Wizards of the Coast: Forget all the present difficulties and furor. I’m thinking of WotC not in 2008-2009, but how they revitalized a flagging D&D property in 2000-2001, and how for a little while, we seemed to be largely on the same page.

7) Iron Crown Enterprises: Aside from the incredibly varied, maddening, and enjoyable Rolemaster critical hit charts, I.C.E. also gave us the joys of MERP, and Pete Fenlon’s peerless, evocative maps.

6) Kenzer & Co.: I’ve spent countless hours enjoying Knights of the Dinner Table, and Hackmaster remains a favorite. Whatever the product, Kenzer seems to “get it”, with a fun, mock-serious attitude and crazy attention to detail.

5) Gamescience Dice: Louis Zocchi is a national treasure, and Gamescience dice are a clear line to the legacy of the hobby. If for Col. Lou’s hypnotic Gamescience video alone, Gamescience deserves to be on this list. This spot also represents the severe dice fetish so many of us sport.

4) West End Games: A company that has faced an uncertain future in its present incarnation, but gave me Star Wars d6 and Ghostbusters once upon a time. The d6 system still appeals, even as we are unsure what will happen with Open d6.

3) Tactical Studies Rules (TSR): For all the crap that happened later on, some of my happiest gaming memories are from Greyhawk, the Rules Cyclopedia, and a ton of unforgettable and influential adventure modules.

2) Game Designers’ Workshop/Far Future Enterprises: The kindly folks who brought me the joys of Traveller. Traveller’s one of those games that seems to be eternal and ageless. “Age cannot wither her, or custom stale her infinite variety”.

1) You, The Gaming Community: Sounds a little saccharine, I know, but I have gleaned and garnered as much from blog posts, homebrew pdfs, messageboard comments, and just talking with gamers as I have from any gaming company. Companies can publish all they want, but without community, we don’t have much.

Do you have a Top 5, 10, 20, or even 50? If so, I'd be thrilled to hear your thoughts as well. Recognizing the enjoyment and excellent folks have brought us in gaming never gets old.


Jeff Rients said...

Excellent choices. By my lights the only obvious omissions are Judges Guild and Wargames West. And while Chaosium hasn't done much lately that's lit my jets, but they've got some mighty fine laurels to sit on.

Allen Varney said...

No sign of Chaosium, the most honored RPG company in the history of the field? That's just silly.

Lumrunner said...

I would have to say the following are on my top 5.

West End Games (Old School WEG)


Chaosium (For Days of CoC and Stormbringer fun)

Wizards of the Coast (I'm lumping TSR with them)

Palladium (I love their settings, rules, eh)

Joseph said...

I wuold have to include Judges Guild, too, as far as RPGs go.

But, being the old wargamer that I am, I would also mention Avalon Hill and SPI, which defined the wargaming hobby for decades.

Steven said...

I was expecting to See White Wolf here, but I guess we can't all like the same things.

Barking Alien said...

And no love for FASA? Star Trek, Shadowrun, gaming's heyday period of the early to mid-80's it was all about FASA for my friends and I.

My top 5 if we are going for all time favorite (not necessarily historical greats) I would have to say:

The often forgotten and ignored
R. Talsorian Games
West End Games
Steve Jackson Games (I don't like GURPS but the supplements rock and the guy brought us TOON for Pete's Sake!)

I have no particular love or dislike of TSR/WotC but if we're talking 'favorite' as opposed to 'important to the industry' they just don't come close to companies like WEG or R. Talsorian for me.

You know R. Talsorian right? The guys who made D&D 3E+ 's skill resolution system way back in the 80's. They also pioneered gaming in the Cyberpunk genre and included influences of America's fascination with Japanese Anime and Manga before we could even purchase it on VHS in our local Video Stores and Walmarts.

WEG...Ghostbusters, Star Wars D6 and Paranoia. I owe my current gaming style to what I read in the GM sections of Star Wars and Paranoia far more then anything TSR or WotC ever told me.

Zachary The First said...

@Allen, others: It’s all about what excitement and enjoyment these companies have brought to *my* gaming table. I seriously respect the accolades and accomplishments of Chaosium, but honestly, their games haven’t made a huge impression on me.

Same with great companies like R. Tal and Steve Jackson Games. I want to make it clear this is a personal list, based on the criteria I mentioned above. They can be critically acclaimed all they like, but if they aren’t getting played and enjoyed at my table, then I’m not going to add them.

@Jeff: JG was my first alternate. If I didn't include an online vendor like NKG, they'd have been on there.

Zachary The First said...

And, yeah, we’re all going to like different things. I think it says as much about what I’ve enjoyed playing as anything. But that’s all good—it’s definitely a subjective list. Now if I were going for most influential companies in gaming (not my personal gaming), many of the ones you guys have mentioned would be on here in a trice.

PatrickWR said...

I would have probably plopped West End Games in there, along with White Wolf (love 'em or hate 'em, they make some gorgeous stuff).

Captcha word: "Sting," as in Bilbo's sword!

Zachary The First said...

@Patrick: Well, I had WEG on there; White Wolf does make some striking stuff, but it’s never been something I’ve enjoyed playing. Werewolf was ok, but games like Vampire, Changeling, and Exalted leave me cold.

HinterWelt said...

Zach- Wow! Thanks and man am I honored to have HinterWelt mentioned in such company as Clash, Brett and Aaron over at Noble Knight. I only hope I can keep your good graces. I just need to get Chevalier out sometime in your lifetime. ;)

jim162065 said...

TSR going through old D&D C & B series was great fun, though CoC was when I really got involved in replaying games. I had tons of fun with Wizards for 3.0 D&D. We used a lot of old judges Guild mods in our 3.0 D&D game too. I love playing Champions 3.0 and the Robot Warriors game. You just cannot beat unluck 2d6. Also Runequest was lot of fun to play.

Andreas Davour said...

I can't make a top 20, but I do have a short and juicy top 5.

5> Target Games AB - for basically starting the hobby in my youth in Sweden.

4> SJG - Steve Jackson sets the standard for caring about fans, communicating online and publishing errata! Also for producing a very clunky game with awesome sourcebooks.

3> Flying Buffalo Inc - for the magnificent City Books, which I love intensely. And for publishing my favourite frpg, Tunnels & Trolls.

2> GDW - for publishing the best sf gaming mag ever, Challenge. Also the home of one of the best designers of board and roleplaying games at all, Frank Chadwick.

1> Chaosium - for the endless hours of gonzo fun with Stormbringer, the mood and class of CoC (and the standard for good looking game books) and just the slickest system around, BRP.

Very personal, and heartfelt.

Richard Iorio II said...

Though we did not make the full list, just to be mentioned is a nice thing. Thanks Zach!

Kim said...

I like different types of games and you have given very good list.I like it.Thank you very much for sharing this with us.You have done a great job.


clash bowley said...

Hey! I love my neighbors - Brett and Bill rock my world, and there are a lot of other great people here! I am both honored and blown away to be on this list, Zachary! Thank you!