Desert Island RPGs

Posted: 1 March 2013 in Reflections

When, as now, I find myself working long hours far from home, I get less time to prepare for gaming sessions, but more time in the car to think. This week, my main topic of thought has been what gaming activities I can keep up under the current gruelling work regime, and which have to be cut back further. Then, I thought of the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the premise is that a celebrity is cast away on a desert island, with a music player and one compilation album. During the programme, the celebrity explains why they picked the 8 tracks on that album, which are played in turn. The castaway is also allowed one luxury item, and one book, as well as copies of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare.


You (and enough friends to make a gaming group) know that you will be cast away on a desert island. Don’t worry about food, accomodation etc. You may assume that you have pencils, paper and dice.

However, 8 games is too many to give a tough choice, and it’s the choice and the reasons for it that are interesting.

What three gaming items would you take with you, and why? What would your book and luxury item be?


The gaming products:

  • Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition. If I could only take one game, this would be it. Works for any genre, works with or without figures, works as a skirmish wargame.
  • All Things Zombie. This comes lower down the list because it needs figures – I picture us drawing a playing area on the beach and using pebbles. However, it serves many purposes; it’s a game in its own right, it’s a setting for SW, it’s a skirmish wargame if you drop the zombies and just use military (or police and ganger) figures, and it’s an AI opponent if the rest of the group don’t make it ashore (or exile me to the DHARMA Initiative end of The Island after too many Total Party Kills).
  • For the final item, I really can’t decide between Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition, which is my favourite SW setting, and Stars Without Number, which has outstanding tools for setting creation. What do you think?

The book and luxury item:

  • I could cheat and take my fourth gaming product as a book, but instead I shall choose The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E Howard, which is a snout (in the dark) ahead of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in my affections – although it was the latter that ignited my interest in fantasy and science fiction, and indirectly led me into roleplaying games a few years later.
  • A repurposed oil tanker full of Glenmorangie. Obviously, the group were travelling on it when it ran aground, and the penguins from Madagascar have trashed the radio.


What would you pick, and why? Answers on a comment please…

  1. Iain says:

    Great post!

    I think the rule sets I would take are Full Thrust, 5150 New Beginnings and Rally Round the King, although Warrior Hero : Legends would be a close call. I’ve played D&D most of my life so definitely need some fantasy rules, but most of my reading in my teens was SciFi.

    My book would be a compilation of either Asimov, Arthur C Clarke or Larry Niven – probably Niven as he covers a wide range of periods and backgrounds, and is the most recent author – some of the works of the others have dated.

    For my luxury item, just give me a computer with a working internet connection ;-)) at last I will have the time to write…

    • andyslack says:

      Thank you!

      Does RRtK allow for individual heroes and their adventures? I thought it was just army-scale battles.

      I thought about the computer, but ruled it out as in these days of PDFs, you wouldn’t really need to choose then… My entire collection would take up less than 25GB, you can fit that on a pen drive these days.

      • wargamingresources says:

        Hi Andy, I was away for weekend, hence late reply…

        RRtK is mass battles and would tie in with Warrior Heroes : Legends for the role playing/ heroes aspect. I wanted to have a big battle / campaign system as well as a skirmish/RPG system, and also wanted to balance SciFi and Fantasy if I’m stuck on an island.

        The computer, for me, would be a tool for writing and research, and whilst I was very aware of the ability to store lots of rules etc, they were a secondary purpose 😉

        Cheers, Iain

      • andyslack says:

        Hi Iain – I’ll let you off, just this once. 🙂

        That sounds like THW is splitting fantasy into a small party system and a mass battle system, as they did for 5150; which tells me I should be looking at WHL rather than RRtK.

        You need another luxury item for the printer, then!

      • wargamingresources says:

        Hi Andy – the fantasy line has 3 rule sets : there is RRtK for mass battles, WHL which covers the fantasy immersion rules and its predecessor WHAA which covers both skirmish and big battles.

        I don’t know them well enough to say whether WHAA has now been superceded or wether it fills a gap between the others. I assume that WHL is much more detailed than WHAA for role-playing.

        Whilst I hadn’t expected to need a printer, I’m sure these days it’s possible to buy a computer with a built in printer. Does this mean I have a spare luxury? 😉

        Cheers Iain

  2. thetailrace says:

    I’d gor for the mini six game, which would do most of what savage worlds could do of course, but with only 6 sided dice and without the need of a deck of cards. Traveller 5 (my kickstarter copy of which I eagerly anticipate}.If all else fails I can roll up legions of scouts. I’ll go for the SWN so that you can grab the Beasts and barbarians 🙂
    For a book I’d go for ‘His Dark Materials’ by Philip Pullman and a luxury item would be a hefty solarpanel that could recharge any tablets or smartphones that anyone might care to bring along, especially devices with dice rolling and mapping apps.

    • andyslack says:

      Yes, there’s a certain elegance to only using d6, isn’t there?

      I admit, ten years ago one of my picks would have been Classic Traveller. Go scouts! Best career ever!

  3. Brass Jester says:

    I would take Savage Worlds, SWN (or my entire Traveller collection if I could fit it in), and probably a superhero game (Squadron UK, due to the campaign system in it).

    Book: I’d have to agree with you and go with the complete Chronicles of Conan (REH).
    Item: Container ship of beer

    • andyslack says:

      Squadron UK sounds interesting, though I haven’t played supers in 30 years now and probably won’t anytime soon. What’s the campaign system like? I vaguely remember reading a draft of the game in my GW days, when it was still Golden Heroes – or maybe I dreamed that part – but don’t recall a campaign system.

  4. Brass Jester says:

    It’s the Day Utility Phase system (which is what is was called in GH). Basically, if you want to train, improve your skills and abilities, research new gear or the latest villain; you allocated DUP’s to it. The GM kept track of what you’d allocated and what your target number was; when you reached it then you achieved your goal. The beauty is that your actions directly affect the campaign and your standing in it, and it works well as part of a solo mechanism, coupled with Story Cubes, or LTL or Mythic GME.

    • raikenclw says:

      “The GM kept track of what you’d allocated and what your target number was; when you reached it then you achieved your goal.” IIRC, Classic Traveller has a similar mechanism, except that it used a monthly basis and you had to *fail* an Intelligence test to keep it up; e.g. it was assumed that the smarter your PC was, the more easily he could be distracted by something less routine/boring.

      • andyslack says:

        That was for boosting physical characteristics; for skills and Education, you just kept plugging away at it. I did like the idea that smarter PCs got bored more easily, though!

  5. Umberto Pignatelli says:

    I’ll bring with me dices, pencils, and a LOT of paper, so I can do my rpgs from myself :).

  6. 1. MegaTraveller – my favorite system so far, and inclusive of more information than any single Traveller book.
    2. Stars Without Number – even MORE to add to the Traveller campaign!
    3. Tekumel – land of unpronounceable names, complicated plots, and truly unique creatures! The game that separates true gamers from wannabes.
    Book: Lord of the Rings – at least the first three books, if not the Hobbit, all in one.
    Luxury – my laptop pc. I have to have something to keep me entertained in between gaming!

  7. […] another thought experiment along the lines of Desert Island RPGs: Witness Protection […]

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