Role playing games are hot right now. Hottest, according to the sales figures and the number of people watching people playing online than ever. The self-publishing and Kickstarter options allow more publishers to get to market — I’ve been one of those who has benefited from this for years. By far and away, the most popular games right now are Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and Paizo’s version of D&D, Pathfinder, which essentially the same as number 2 — Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. All are, at their core, different versions of d20. Both are fantasy settings. There are a plethora of settings that use these as their gaming engine, from Greek myth-inspired stuff like Arkadia (a neat setting my daughter has been playing in) to modern spy settings and science fiction settings.

Why d20? Because most gamers start with D&D, and they know the core mechanic. Like driving a car, the controls are standardized enough to jump back and forth and not be lost. Now, d20 haters — and I’ve been part of their ranks and am trending that way again — will decry the lack of creativity in bolting on your setting to d20, or will complain about the way hit points or class/level advancements aren’t realistic, or the probabilities of rolling a whatever are flat. All good criticisms. But there’s something to be said for being able to sit down and play without having to learn new mechanics.

My gaming group loves the old Margaret Weiss games Cortex system. It’s flexible, allows you to craft a character well and design adventures that aren’t focused on killing some fauna for their stuff. I’d love to port everything we play into Cortex, and we’d all be happy, but I don’t have that kind of time…and something having a different set of rules is fun and can enhance the flavor of the setting.

Why the fantasy setting? In many ways, Dungeons & Dragons was a rip-off of Tolkein and Vance fantasy settings bolted onto a medieval wargaming engine. Orcs and elves, dwarves and halflings — it’s Lord of the Rings without the immense backstory. It was to the 1970s reader, familiar. Fast forward a few decades and D&D is now its own genre — high fantasy with house ruled settings to please kids who wanted to play teenage mutant ninja turtles, or fight dinosaurs or machine critters. the races might shift a bit, but they’re all there, but with a few “cool” additions like tieflings (who I’ll admit I like), and aasimar, and and and… It’s familiar, but you can fiddle to get what you want.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.