The game system I have the most books for I've never used is probably GURPS. Mainly because GURPS takes so damn long to make characters, I always lose patience, so I've never tried to run anything with any of my groups. But I have them more because a lot of the books are good reference for other things, and I've used them for that. And I used to work at a hobby shop, so I could get RPG books at a good discount.
No, my favorite RPG I've never played has to be Mage: The Ascension
, by White Wolf. I've barely skimmed through the new WoD Mage book, I got kinda turned off by all the talk at the beginning about Atlantis. So I haven't really given it a fair shot, but I don't have $50 to blow on RPG books these days.
If I'm being honest, probably one of the biggest reasons I like Mage is it's as if Cyberpunk, Magic, and Superheroes had a kid, and it shared some of the awesomest parts from each. (1) It was the Matrix before the Matrix. It hits all kinds of fanboy buttons. I am nothing if not a nerd. Plus two of the Traditions are steampunky mad scientists and nerd mages who work their magic through computers. How could I resist?
But aside from my fanboy-isms, part of it was the timing. I started picking Mage books up shortly after I actually read the Principia Discordia through and my mind was Aflame With Possibilities. And Mage has plenty of possibilities. And a dozen or so different ways of looking at the universe, too. Most of the game that wasn't about flipping out and doing crazy stuff was philosophy. An RPG might seem a weird place to learn philosophy from, which it might be. But they also had a really cool section of bibliography showing books they'd gotten ideas from. Some of them were gobbledygook and bullshit, and some were interesting, like Finite and Infinite Games
, which I actually found at the library a while before I picked one of the Mage books that referenced it.
The two things from Mage that've stuck with me the most are these. The first is part of the Virtual Adepts, the computer nerd mages. Who I always identified with, naturally enough, since they were made of writers, computer programmers, and so on. Their specialty in magic is/was Correspondence, which is looking at the connections between things. And for the longest time, I thought "lame," because it wasn't as flashy or obviously powerful as the other schools, even if it did have cool things like teleportation. It wasn't as obviously powerful or flashy or neat as the other schools got. But since I never played it, it never really came up.
Then, a couple of years ago, I was driving to work, and thinking about utterly random stuff. I don't remember the train of thought, but I realized, basically, things only exist because they interact. If they don't interact with anything else, they might as well not exist. How do we know what color something is? By how light interacts with it and our eyes. How do we know how hard something is? By how it interacts with our hands. How do we know what properties oxygen has. By how it interacts with other chemicals. If something doesn't interact with anything, it doesn't exist. And that's when I realized that's what they were getting at with Correspondence, and I felt dumb for not realizing it all that long ago.
The other is in Mage, one of the signs of advancement for your character was they'd stop needing to use a focus or special preparations to do things. Partly I just think it's a really cool effect, since as you get better, you don't really need the tools, though they may make things easier. And it also works the same kind of way as the witches in Discworld, where Granny Weatherwax could use a dented kitchen spoon as the Sacred Steel Knife, as long as she convinced the universe it was. And parts of life work that way too, as you get better, you don't need the tools and tricks nearly as much. They might make it easier, sometimes, but you can learn more by doing it without them, and sometimes they hold you back. A good artist can do as much or more with just a pencil as a newbie or a decent artist, even with all the best computer tricks.
And philosophically, it appeals, because it leaves open all sorts of different ways to end up the same general place. The tricks and tools are there to help you, and make you feel like you know what you're doing, the universe doesn't care.
My Mage books are still sitting up on the shelf, I haven't really looked through them in months. Writing this made me want to again. I wonder now if they'll live up to the awesomeness I remember and have projected on them, or not. And I wonder if I'll ever actually get the chance to run (or play in) a cool Mage campaign, and if it'd live up to the awesomeness I'd expect. Probably not, but letting things sit around as abstract ideals that never get implemented is way too Platonic and stupid. An idea of something isn't nearly as awesome as that actual something doing things. Even if it is more perfect.
So what're you people's favorite RPGs you've never played? And maybe I should look for a group for Mage.1: There's a theory out there that all of White Wolf's games are about superheroes, really. When characters in most of them can shrug off bullets or just dodge them, and throw cars, I tend to agree.