I have spent a huge amount of my live either playing or plotting RPGs. My experience is that some games are most definitely better than others. Over time, I have decided that games that have a more streamlined ruleset with a simple mechanism works best. It has ended up with a list of five games, this is not an arbitrary figure, it is just happened that there were five of them.
Traveller was the third set of rules that I purchased. I have started with Tunnels and Troll and moved on to D+D (rather than AD+D) but I was always a sci-fi buff. Then I started to see Traveller in the games shops I went in and I quickly found this was something I wanted to get into. This was my go to game as a GM for almost all of my early gaming experiences and it still has a pull on me today. Over the years it is the game I am probably most invested in, in terms of money and playing time. It has a random generation system for characters which is still, to my mind, one of the best systems ever and certainly the best around at the time. It favoured skills over stats which was hugely different to the other games at the time. The gaming mechanism, roll 2d6 and get above 7 (or 8 depending on the ref), subject to skill and situational modifiers. It was well supported and the game is still played in an essentially similar format today and has plenty of online support. Whilst I have run this game a lot, it was the campaign that Jim ran in his version of Traveller in a coherent campaign that has gone of for decades that was the best. My experiences of the newer versions of the game have not been good but this is largely down to the GM not the system.
Harn or Harnmaster is one of the few fantasy games on my list. The world is essentially very medieval. Elements of low fantasy are part of the everyday world (with magic and religion having detailed separate books) with higher fantasy elements beyond the fringes of society. Again it a random character generation system although you have some choices. The referee can give you a bit more freedom if they like. One of the best elements of the game is the combat system. You get choices of what you do in melee and ranged combat that you don't get in most games. This gives you more of a feel for being part of the action. The mechanism for skill checks is nice and simple but can give you a variety of outcomes. This can easily be played in any variety of genres. This is a game that is still well supported on line and there are more mids for this game than any other I can think of that function much like mods on modern computer games. I ran this for a short while but it was really the GMing of Mike that got me to love this game, he turned it into something that was a bit more high fantasy that was a truly memorable game.
Conspiracy X is another game I love. Born out of The X Files TV show, it is a much darker yet more real world tabletop version of the show. Players take on the roles (usually) of real or game created government agencies who fight supernatural and alien threats to the earth. I have always run it as a conspiracy within a conspiracy with a lot of science and supernatural elements. Although I am working my way through the second edition books, I have only ever played the first edition so my experiences only reflect that. It's a points buy system which allows for a lot of skill and ability customisation. It does leave you with a feel for the character and what has turned them into what they are. The mechanisms just use d6 (which changes in the second edition) and a simple roll modified by skills, stats and situational mods is about all you need to know as a player. You start with a choice of profession that gives you a range of skills to chose from and the ability to pull strings in certain areas. From here you can buy skills, abilities and influence. Influence affects you about to pull strings and acquire a range of equipment from light revolvers to Aurora stealth planes constructed with alien technology. The players, as group get together to spend points to set up a base and can give it a range of facilities, support staff as well as vehicles and gear. One of the coolest systems in the game was the martial arts sections. Each form comes with a range of abilities (flip, disarm, break neck, punch, kick, haymaker, killing blow for example) with more skilled fighters having the ability to create attack combos of multiple moves. Sadly this has never been a popular game and has extremely limited online support. This was a game that I got off someone else but turned into into a few long running campaigns and a few shorter ones.
Savage Worlds is my current go to RPG game and has been for about five years now. It is a simple and streamlined system which as it says, cuts out the fat and creates a fast, furious and fun system. This still allows for interesting combat and competition between characters. Character creation is simple and this allows players to get into the game quickly. There is no character classes but you do get to pick a variety of edges and in some games you get to pick a race depending on the background. Skill checks are easy enough to do with a fairly simple mechanism using different types of dice. My reasons for choosing this as my go to is that they game is multi genre and is easy to convert to just about any background. There are so many fan created background that go along with numerous in house creations. Any system can be converted over relatively easily and any TV show, film or game can quickly be turned into a background. If it has a flaw then it is that the game is so simple. Unless you are a careful GM you can run the risk of monsters being a bit samey. This game is big enough to be heavily supported online and this has a lot of fan support. I have run a few campaigns in this system. My Viking Game uses this as does the Fallout Game. I have played in a huge number of different backgrounds with other GMs and loved pretty much all of them.
Cyberpunk 2020 is another blast from the past. It's a game that I played a lot during the nineties and even now I still think about using the system. Born out of William Gibson's books and other authors of the time. It predicts a time when man and machine are completely integrated and cybernetics , if not an everyday part of life is common amongst the military and the underworld. Hacking computers whilst a human brain is directly meshed within the network is relatively commonplace. Whilst style is at the forefront of what many characters become there is a fair amount of substance to character generation. There are a range of character classes, each with their own unique abilities. There is a random element to character generation but you do get to pick and chose some elements. Although clearly based in America, there are supplements that cross the globe and even into near earth orbit and Mars. Skill checks and combat operate through a fairly simple system but there is enough meat on the bones to make it interesting. This is an older system but does not really feel that out of date although many of the issues around technology seem to have been more than a bit optimistic. Although it was fairly big at the time it has not stood the test of time despite Shadowrun (essentially the same sort of game but with orcs, elves dwarves etc) coming back for edition after edition and initially at least, not being as good a system. Whilst there is some online support for the game and a new edition, it is perhaps not as well supported as some of the other games. Cyberpunk was another one of Mike's games and a twisted turbulent campaign it was lasting several years.
If you have any suggestions (that are not D+D because I just won't believe you :)) please tell me about them.