Suggested Game Tiers
ADVISORY NOTE: CONSIDER EVERYTHING ON RPG RESEARCH AS A "REQUEST FOR COMMENTS" (RFC). AS WITH EVERYTHING AT RPG RESEARCH, ALL INFORMATION IS PROPOSED BASED ON THE LATEST RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE-IN-PRACTICE INFORMATION. WE WELCOME DIFFERING VIEWPOINTS, PERSPECTIVES FROM MANY DISCIPLINES, ALTERNATE THEORIES, AND ESPECIALLY _CONSTRUCTIVE_ CRITICISM AND FEEDBACK. AS WITH EVERYTHING AT RPG RESEARCH IT IS AN ITERATIVE BEST EFFORT APPROACH THAT GROWS THROUGH THE INVOLVEMENT OF MORE AND DIVERSE CONTRIBUTORS.
Diversity of Role-Playing Game Formats, Systems, & Settings
Our research and community programs support all roleplaying game formats:
tabletop (TRPG aka TTRPG)
live-action (LRPG & Larp)
electronic (ERPG, audio-basd ARPG, computer-based CRPG), MMORPG, augmented reality AR-RPG, virtual reality VR-RPG, etc.).
hybrid role-playing games, a catch-all for every other variant of RPG that doesn't fit under the other three.
See the Hawkes-Robinson RPG Model for more information.
Assessment and Evaluation Process, Methodology, and Tools
We have an extensive review process that can take weeks, months, or even years to complete a full cycle through all our lab and field tests and peer review.
Due to the lengthiness of this process, this page is meant as a general guide and snapshot not a final determination. We are revising our tools and expect to be posting a more finalized listing in 2022. For now this page will have to suffice as a general guide but with the many caveats of significant revisions every few months.
There are many tools we use, see our Assessment Tools page. Many are well-established industry tools, some we have to pay significant licensing fees for their use and/or require extensive training to administer. We also have some tools we have developed over the decades, are currently developing, or have on our wishlist to develop because we have not found other tools sufficient to meet all of our research and human services goals.
Two key tools created by RPG Research's founder Hawkes-Robinson and further revised by RPG Research and others, that are relevant to this page are the Activity Analysis Form for Role-Playing Games (AAF-RPG), and the Game Tiers Assessment Tool (GTAT).
The AAF-RPG scoring is appropriate for general populations, while the GTAT scoring is appropriate for at-risk, high-risk, and/or special needs populations including considerations for physical accessibility.
A brief overview of each are provided below.
Activity Analysis Form (AAF) & Role-Playing Games (AAF-RPG)
The AAF-RPG is designed to assess role-playing games "as they are" for the "general population" with no considerations for special needs populations, at-risk or high-risk populations, or adaptations.
We have been developing over the years (still very much in development) a revised Activity Analysis Form (AAF) that has far better validity and reliability coefficients than the the industry standards currently widely adopted by Occupational Therapy (OT), Recreational Therapy (RT) and Therapeutic Recreation (TR), Music Therapy, and other related professions. Unfortunately all of the industries use AAFs with terrible inter-rater reliability coefficients. Most of the sections in most AAFs we've evaluated score (at best) only 0.2 to 0.4, and many others are <0.2. Our goal is to raise that to the minimum standard of 0.8+ in all areas of measure.
Additionally we are working on a role-playing game (RPG) specific AAF variant, the AAF-RPG to help professionals determine which RPG is the best fit for their goals. Whether you are a professional recreational RPG service provider for laypersons, an RPG entertainer, using RPGs in educational settings, or for the applied therapeutic use of role-playing games as intervention modalities and you need to know which RPG is the best fit for your target population, the goal of the AAF-RPG is to (eventually) provide a useful scoring that can be cross-referenced with various assessment tools, to create a "best match matrix".
Until these tools are further refined and meet the outlined requirements, to help people have a very broad idea of which RPGs are appropriate for higher-risk populations, and which ones may require more training and effort to implement, this page provides a very rough game tier list of RPGs, with 1 being the lowest barrier to entry and least challenge to use when working with at-risk/high-risk populations, and 10 indicating the highest barriers to entry and/or greatest challenge if considering for use with at-risk/high-risk populations.
(more details page pending)
Game Tier Assessment Tool revision 2 (GTAT2)
While the AAF-RPG (AAF-RPG) provides a detailed granular report about RPGs, it is geared for general population with no special need or adaption.
The GTAT2 is is designed with the assumption of at-risk or higher-risk populations, and determining which RPGs are “easiest” and “most appropriate” to use with such populations, and which ones require more advanced training and/or more adaptation to be usable safely with these populations.
The GTAT2 is a higher-level quicker overall asessment that is not as granular as the AAF-RPG, but should be useful for professionals as a general guidelines when trying to determine which RPGs to use in their programs/practice working with their at-risk or high-risk populations.
(more details page pending)
Why Game Tiers?
We rate games by a multivariate method with a lot of contextual considerations. These ratings are just very rough approximate relative high-level guidelines. Ultimately decisions are made on a case-by-case cross-reference matrix basis using assessment information about the participants, the desired goals, and then our data about which games are most effective for that population in general, plus specific strengths and weaknesses of the game/setting relevant to the participant's functional assessment and goals.
Please contact us for more details about whether higher number tiers are appropriate for your intentions and population goals.
Generally these broad tier ratings assume considerations for at-risk & high-risk populations. The "safety" issues are generally not a problem for the general populace, but are a concern for the at-risk/high-risk populations, and so are looking at the games from that perspective.
Generally the lowest number tiers (for example tier 1) are the most accessible and/or "safest" for the widest audience possible.
Higher number tiers (for example tier 7+) are more specialized and only appropriate for a smaller range of populations and goals, and have more significant considerations to be taken into account, especially for "at risk" populations to determine if they are appropriate for the desired population to use the game.
The larger the tier number, the greater the risk of something "going wrong" for at-risk populations, and/or the greater level of preparation and/or years of training needed by the GM, and/or player training before being able to run the game effectively and "safely" in a group setting.
Game Tiers do NOT directly correlate with Game Master Training Levels. A level 3 GM may be running a Tier 5 game for example.
ATTENTION GAME DEVELOPERS & PUBLISHERS: A very significant impact on Tier ranking, besides whether the content is age/developmental-level appropriate, is your game's "Barrier to Entry" for first-time RPGers. This is about how complex is it to pick up introductory version of the game as a first-time never-before played any RPG before, first as player by yourself and then as GM for your very first time assuming nobody to help you, and learn first by yourself through solo adventure learning (without relying on "The Mentor Model" that bottlenecks and plagues 99% of RPGs), and how easily you can GM your first group.
If you would like to learn more about the variables we considered in establishing this tier rating, see the notes at the end of this page for a partial summary with descriptions of each heading.
HOW GAMES ARE EVALUATED FOR TIER RATINGS: (link to details pending explaining how these games are scored for tier ranking using our Activity Analysis Form (AAF) and other tools.
Game Tiers (a draft work in progress)
These are games that are currently in our queue pending evaluation:
The Dark Crystal Adventure Game: Pending receiving copy December 2021.
InspireIsles - pending receiving in second half of 2021
Mouse Guard RPG - Potentially appropriate for ages 4+ years old. Pending final evaluation. This tier is just an estimate based on the initial read-through.
We are pending play-testing and AAF evaluation administration and scoring.
Stargate SG-1 D&D 5e RPG
Avatar the Last Airbender RPG
Further evaluation of The Expanse RPG
Further evaluation of Star Trek Adventures
Further evaluation of The Labyrinth Adventure Game
Further evaluation of the Dune RPG
Tier 1 games are, appropriately "safe" for the widest population possible.
No Thank You Evil (NTYE) by Monte Cook Games - Appropriate for ages 5+. Simple system. Child friendly. Low violence. Open creativity. Easy to learn to play quickly. Easy to learn to GM quickly. Sessions duration very short (30-45 minutes). (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Save The Royal Family larp by Hawkes-Robinson. Appropriate for ages 2.5+ years, including non-verbal ASD/PDD and neurotypical piers. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Battle Royale LARP and TRPG - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).Oakley and the Villagers -
(link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Golden Sky Stories RPG - Potentially Tier 1 for players, but at least Tier 3 or 4 for game masters due to poor layout organization and barrier to entry for the GM. Potentially appropriate for ages 4+ years old. pending formal evaluation, this is just an estimate based on an initial read-through. While the game play itself is likely Tier 1, the poor organization may raise it to a higher tier due to excessively high barrier to entry. We are pending play-testing and AAF evaluation administration and scoring.
The Labyrinth Adventure Game: Tier 1 for players, but at least Tier 3 for game masters as far as barrier to entry.
Hero Kids RPG - We are still pending actual play-testing and AAF evaluation administration and scoring.
BECMI D&D - Basic Dungeons & Dragons, 1983 by Frank Mentzer. Ages 8+. Lightweight system. Fast feedback on actions. Includes basic behavior guidance rules through the simplistic alignment system. Would be Tier 1 but for some errors, organizations, and game system specific issues, as well as some content. It is geared for 9+ years old, but can be played by younger groups. One of the best tutorials for first time game masters (despite some of the typos and errors in both the originals and different error sin the PDF reprints). Emphasis on heroic play. Many published modules provide options or recommendations to talk first rather than fight as the best solutions (link to details pending explaining why this tier). The One Ring Role-Playing Game (TOR RPG) - Appropriate for ages 9+. Family friendly. Strong behavior guidance built into the rules. Focused on heroic cooperative play. Strong empathy building rules built into the system. Emphasis on story over rules. Supports "Theater of the Mind" well since it is not based on a miniatures combat system. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
BFRPG - Basic Fantasy Role-Playing game (BFRPG)- Appropriate for ages 9+. Straight forward system. Potentially Tier 1 for players, but Tier 3+ for first time game masters. Does not include any solo introductory tutorials or adventures. Tiering also impacted by specific adventure content chosen. Does provide quick feedback on consequences to actions (character termination). Easily accessible rules freely available to the public. Printed version very affordable & accessible. Accessibility options available. Open setting very flexible use. Specific adventures appropriate to this tier include upcoming solo adventures 1 & 2 by W.A. Hawkes-Robinson (RPG Research), Bear Dungeons, and Gold in the Hills. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
BCI RPG - in development by RPG Research at https://bcirpg.com - Specifically designed for accessibility and a low barrier to entry for Locked-in Syndrome (LIS) and Complete Locked-In State (CLIS) populations. Material designed to be family friendly for introductory adventure.
Tier 3 Games
BECMI E/C/M - Expert, Companion, through Masters D&D - (link to details pending explaining why this tier). Building on the earlier Basic rules for BECMI. More advanced material, not meant for beginners (start with Basic rules for beginners).
Doctor Who Adventures in Time & Space (DWAITS) - Appropriate for ages 10+. Lightweight system. System emphasizes non-violent solutions & encourages talking. Only needs six sided dice (no funky dice). Good behavior guidance. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Adventures in Middle-earth (AiMe) - Appropriate for ages 11+. Based on D&D 5e but fixes it by removing the moral relativism and including some of the TOR RPG behavior guidance rules and empathy building mechanics. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) aka DnD - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
B/X D&D - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
FATE Accelerated (Depends on setting) - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Top Secret: New World Order (TS:NWO) - White Queen - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
BFRPG: Castle by the Sea, Slavers Fortress, ...
Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition: Prelude. Appropriate for ages 11+. Video game (electronic RPG) available on about every platform (WIndows, Mac, Linux, Android, Game Consoles). Very affordable. Self-hosting. Access control. Create own adventures. Good behavior guidance rules. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
BECMI - Immortals D&D - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Twilight 2000 Fourth Edition RPG (Kickstarter-based) - This is potentially more accessible than previous versions due to the "Buddy System" and other rules that provide potentially useful behavior guidance rules. Currently evaluating early release versions.Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Fate Accelerated: Dresden Files - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Fate Accelerated: Venture City - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Fate Accelerated: Aether Sea - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
This is the default starting tier pending evaluation. All RPGs that have not yet been evaluated formally, will start at this tier, and then be adjusted (if necessary) up or down the tier rankings as the evaluation process progresses.
Call of Cthluhu 7th Edition Introductory Solo Adventure Module (SAM): Alone Against the Flames, Ages 13+. Dark content raises tier significantly higher than it would be. Exceptional RPG solo learning method (comparable to the BECMI Basic D&D 1983 Frank Mentzer approach, but unfortunately does not follow through on the GM side, but excellent for learning to play as just a player). (link to details pending explaining why this tier). Might be higher number tier (6+) due to graphic details of burning people, etc. Final evaluation still in the works.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition - Click link for details about game tier ranking.
Babylon 5 RPG first and second edition d20 3.x based. While sociopolitical gaming is challenging, this game especially focuses on talking over violence as the best solution. Combat is deadly, so the feedback loop of information about adaptive and maladaptive behaviors is fairly clear. THe game system rules complexity, based on D&D 3.x makes this 1 tier higher than it would be with other system options. It has some strong guidance on action consequences, and overall a theme of good vs. evil, but does have rather ambiguous feedback on "good" and "bad", so some populations may struggle.
Basic Role-Playing (BRP) by Chaosium - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
GURPS Lite - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Discworld RPG (Terry Pratchett) GURPS Lite: <pending> actual tier evaluation pending, this is just starting point due to game system.
FATE - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
FATE:Dresden Files: <pending:> actual tier evaluation pending, this is just starting point due to game system. May be higher numbered tier (6+) due to more mature content, depending on how it is run.
Mechwarrior RPG - pending
Robotech RPG - pending
Cyberpunk RPG - pending
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Kids on Bikes - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Rolemaster - (link to details pending explaining why this tier). initial complexity and graphic criticals. On the other hand we have seen this system reduce "murder hobo" behaviors due to the effective consequence feedback system. final evaluation pending, this is just a starting point estimate.
HERO - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
GURPS - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Babylon 5 RPG Mongoose Publishing - Very badly organized and porrly written version of this normally excellent setting. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Boot Hill - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
DragonAge TRPG - pending
Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition: Dark content appropriate only for ages 13+, sometimes 18+. Mid-level system complexity. Unfortunately the GM training doesn't fit the BECMI distributed learning model so that also raises it another tier notch. (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Bubblegumshoe - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Thieves World Original System Agnostic Edition (1980s) - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Thieves World d20 3.x Edition (2000s). - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Vampire the Masquerade - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
D&D 3.x third-party book "Book of Erotic Fantasy". - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Book of Vile Darkness for D&D by Monte Cooke Games. - (link to details pending explaining why this tier).
Overview Summary of Multivariate RPG Assessment for Game Tier Rankings
The following is just a small portion of the variables we take into account when establishing the game system/setting rating.
System complexity. If different versions of the system available (basic versus advanced), then separate ratings for each version, could even be completely different tiers.
Unnecessarily dumbed down, so doesn't raise up participants?
Accessibility considerations (long list): readability of font (dyslexia) (sans with large font and wide kerning will generally be "Best"), artwork/watermark behind text,
Organization of book for first-time play, and later look-up referencing: does it have a robust ToC? Does it have an alphabetical index? Does it have a charts index? Does the order of chapters make logical sense in the flow of learning the game and later looking up content. Is content logical in where it is found, and easily found again through logical assumptions of where it should be?
Writing/editing. Is it well written and edited? Is it filled with typos? Does it require errata or community contributions or house rules to make it playable, versus playable as-is without modification? (some examples of some of the worst ones include Twilight 2013 (Twilight 2000 3rd edition) and Decipher's Lord of the Rings RPG).
Differential, distributed, in-game learning, Ramping up learning/vs. mass learning. Can learn on own to play. How well beginner set/intro helps first-time GM with running first session with other players.
Moral / ethical Ambiguity/clarity.
"Heroic-only" versus any "Alignment" play. The more it lends toward "evil" PCs, the higher the number on the risk rating for the tier evaluation.
Clearly defined parameters for adaptive vs. maladaptive behaviors & consequences built into the rules. (behavior guidance rules), versus having to rely on the story or GM fiat to enforce.
Openness of creativity.
Level of violence detail.
Deadliness of system (this can actually often be a good thing to encourage non-violent solutions, whereas the more abstract less deadly systems encourage more violent solutions)
How much encourages vs. discourages violent solutions versus non-violent solutions.
Can start playing immediately versus long read through before actual play.
1-shots friendly versus campaign friendly, versus flexible.
Empathy development rules built in.
Camaraderie rules built-in
Game System | Setting | Player Ages | GM Ages | Chargen Duration | Overall System Complexity | Efficacy Distributed Learning | Dumbed Down? | Accessibility | Organization For 1st-time learning | Oragnization for reference lookup | Writing/editing | Moral/Ethical Ambiguity | Good-only? | Behavior guidance | Creativity openness | Violence detail | Dissuades violence | 1st-time intro solo play start time | 1st time intro GM prep time | 1st tim/e intro GM/players start play time | Session duration | 1-shots | Mid-range | Long campaigns | Empathy dev | camaraderie dev | ...