Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Timeless

As quite a few people correctly pointed out in response to yesterday's post on the focus of the old school renaissance, a goodly number of the RPGs published since the dawn of the hobby are still in print in some fashion or another. Just as importantly, most of these RPGs haven't changed all that much since their initial appearances, which is markedly different than D&D. For example:
  • Tunnels & Trolls: I never played much T&T and what little I did play was back during the days of the 5th Edition, which is still in print and available from its original publisher. For that matter, the game's original designer is still actively involved with his creation. About how many other RPGs can you say that? (There are other editions of T&T after 5th, which diverge a bit from the game I knew as a young person, but, even so, the divergence is much less than between the TSR and WotC versions of D&D).
  • Call of Cthulhu: The biggest change this game underwent was between 1st and 2nd edition, I believe, and that happened way back in 1983 -- more than a quarter-century ago. Since then, the game has remained continuously in print from its original publisher. Each new "edition" is really just a new printing, sometimes with a new layout and art, along with errata and other minuscule changes. CoC remains my ideal RPG in terms of the way it's been sold and developed over the years. I wish more companies employed Chaosium's model.
  • Traveller: The classic SF RPG is a weird case. Except for short periods of time, there's always been some game calling itself Traveller in print, but they're not all wholly compatible with one another, either mechanically or thematically, though the differences are small in some cases. Some have noted that, despite the welter of editions and rules sets, Traveller fandom isn't as prone to the "divisive silliness" that D&D generates. Sadly, I think the reason for that is that, by and large, Traveller is a game people talk about but don't play, so the rules are secondary to its setting (and setting assumptions).
  • RuneQuest: There was a period between the end of RQ III and the publication of Mongoose's version when no BRP-driven version of the game existed. Now we have both MRQ II and OpenQuest (both of which I own and both of which I ought to review), so the situation is much improved. I have very mixed feelings about MRQ II overall, but they're the same kind of irrational grognardly complaints that impel me to turn my nose up at ascending AC and a single saving throw in Swords & Wizardry, not anything that ought to be taken seriously.
  • FGU: With the noteworthy exception of Chivalry & Sorcery (which is in a weird publishing limbo at the moment), almost the entirety of FGU's catalog is still available for purchase through the original publisher and at very reasonable prices. In a few cases, such as Aftermath, there are even some new materials being published for these games!
  • Villains & Vigilantes: V&V is alive and well and in the hands of its creators, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman. It's inexpensive and there's new material being created for it.
What other major old school games are still available these days, in one form or another? I'm sure I've missed some important ones.

40 comments:

  1. Does Rolemaster count? Iron Crown Enterprises is still with us (under new management) and supporting a variety of editions (the Old 2nd Ed as "Classic" etc.). Unfortunately MERP is no longer with us (as one might expect).

    Ciao,
    Andrew

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  2. RoleMaster, of course! How could I forget that one? Yes, yes, it most certainly does count. Because I never played much of it (besides MERP), I keep letting its existence slip my mind, but I shouldn't.

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  3. Pendragon is still available as a .pdf from RPG Drive Thru, though its gone through a whole bunch of publishers over the past few years, and Greg Stafford still seems to be producing new material.

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  4. Dare I say it...Arduin? Granted three differing rules sets but you can still get the reprints from www.empcho.com

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  5. Empire of the Petal Throne is still available from Tita's house of games, as well as all of the later rules iterations.

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  6. Does WFRP count, or is that too late on the scene to count as Old School? Now in its 3rd Edition and looking more like a board game every time.

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  7. What about champions/hero. I have not looked at the 6th edition, but through the other editions, the game had the same mechanics, for the most part, they just keep adding more and more.

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  8. What about battletech? In spite of a number of revisions, company folding and licence buyouts, there have been products published since the 80's......

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  9. GURPS?
    Steve Jackson Games draws most of thier revenue from Munchkin these days, but GURPS is still in print, mostly unchanged from when it was just the Man-to-Man mini-game.

    Steve Jackson is still intimately involved with the company, and they keep designing and publishing niche gamer-games like FRAG, Chez Geek, OGRE, and Car Wars. Even if many of them don't stay in print very long.

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  10. I think that the reason Traveller players haven't been upset by changes in the rules is that for many players, Traveller isn't the rules: It's the setting. They can use plenty of different rule sets, but keep the Imperium and its trappings.

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  11. "I think that the reason Traveller players haven't been upset by changes in the rules is that for many players, Traveller isn't the rules: It's the setting. They can use plenty of different rule sets, but keep the Imperium and its trappings."

    Which is funny because originally classic Traveller was just the three little black books, with no information about the Imperium. That stuff came later when GDW started pumping out supplements and adventures.

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  12. I was going to mention WFRP, but I really don't think the latest edition bears more than a superficial resemblance to the roleplaying game.

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  13. Does WFRP count, or is that too late on the scene to count as Old School?

    WFRP 1e is definitely old school in its design. I'd have no hesitation about calling it such. My knowledge of 2e is limited and what I have seen of 3e suggests that it's at least different from 1e as D&D IV is from any TSR edition, if not more.

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  14. What about champions/hero. I have not looked at the 6th edition, but through the other editions, the game had the same mechanics, for the most part, they just keep adding more and more.

    Champions is a game I really don't know what to make of. Its early editions were games I could actually play, even if they weren't my first choices, even for superheroes. Later editions, including everything released by DOJ, is just much too much. Is the current edition at all compatible with the earlier ones?

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  15. What about battletech?

    Is the current version at all like the original one from 1984?

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  16. GURPS?

    Like Champions/HERO, I never really know what to make of GURPS. It is true that it's been continuously in print and in the hands of its creator, so that's good to see at least.

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  17. Which is funny because originally classic Traveller was just the three little black books, with no information about the Imperium. That stuff came later when GDW started pumping out supplements and adventures.

    Correct. And yet, since the MegaTraveller era for certain (if not before then), the game ceased being generic and became primarily about its increasingly detailed setting.

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  18. To the best of my knowledge the 2nd edition WFRP book is still available from Green Ronin, so I think it qualifies.

    Catalyst's 'Classic Battletech' is almost exactly the same game as the original and compatible with the old FASA material.

    Speaking of FASA, Shadowrun's been in print for, like, 20 years at this point, hasn't it?

    Also, maybe Star Wars RPG? Differences between the WEG d6 version and Saga edition are legion, but some Star Wars game's always been available, right?

    Something of a digression but I really like WFRP 3rd edition. I think it's got some really cool mechanics, the art isn't the anime-inspired stuff of D&D4e and Pathfinder, and all the components mean you hardly ever need to consult the book.

    Also, while I'm commenting, thanks James. Stumbling across this blog and your enthusiasm for RPGs has reignited mine.

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  19. If WFRP2e can be regarded as old school, then so can the W40K rpgs (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader and Deathwatch). These use the same engine as WFRP2e and share some of the sensibilities. Let's face it - in Deathwatch you get to play Space Marines and kill things in the name of the Emperor. Old school, even if it is relatively new.

    My vote would go the Maelstrom rpg. It's a British rpg that was published by Penguin in the mid-80s, during the boom years. It is still available as a pdf, a new supplement was produced and there are rumours it may be going back into proper hard copy!

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  20. Yes, the current rules for the Battletech board game are almost exactly the same as the original Battledroids from 1984. Weapons do the same damage, have the same ranges, engine sizes provide the same speeds at different weights, the mechanics are the same. A few rules have been added, and there have been many hundreds of pages of new equipment and 'mecha produced over the years, but the game rules are the same.

    That can not be said for the related RPG, though; 1st edition, 2nd edition, and 3rd edition were all different to varying degrees in form.

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  21. OK, I'm jonesing for Space Opera now. See if I can shake 20 bucks loose from somewhere and use my own setting.

    As a long time Traveller player/referee/writer/grognard the shift from game to setting happened long before MT. Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches and the articles and news bit in JTAS brought the setting to the fore. The Digest Group stuff only added to the avalanche. By the time I discovered the Traveller Mailing List in 1990 or so, 90% of the discussions were already setting minutiae.

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  22. @ Lucas

    I believe your mistaken about WFRP 2e. I know Fantasy Flight games (the current makers of the RPG and the makers of WFRP 2e material towards the end of its run) tried to sell off all the extra WFRP 2e material at greatly cut prices, which I benefited from.

    Green Ronin hasn't sold WFRP for quite awhile.

    I wish there was some way to do a WFRP renaissance, but I think it's too bound to the setting for that to work.

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  23. @ Evan:

    I wish there was some way to do a WFRP renaissance, but I think it's too bound to the setting for that to work.

    You're right, the setting is 80% of WFRP's attraction. There are some brilliant bits to the mechanics (speaking of 1E, with which I'm most familiar), such as the career system, but even that is heavily tied to the Old World. And, to be frank, the mechanics had some real serious problems, too.

    Far more practical, I think, would be to come up with a dark fantasy setting with a similar feel and write a game for it using an adaptable set of compatible rules, such as GORE or perhaps OpenQuest. I've often thought BRP (or its clones) were ideal for WFRP.

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  24. Life-long HERO System guy here.

    The current 6th Edition is still technically compatible with previous editions, but they've made some fundamental changes. The major one is that there are no more figured characteristics--every stat and value is purchased with points. And to handle this, the initial point build has been bumped up (to 400 points). I try to be as little of a "System Guy" as possible, but 6e just bogs down, and their solution seems to be simply throwing more points at it.

    I ran 4th/5th Edition games for almost two decades, but I finally gave up with 6th. I could better handle all the crunch if it wasn't so damned dry; the only DOJ book in recent memory that captures the wild, wooly flavor of comics is Lucha Libre HERO (by Darren Watts and Jason Walters). And that was the last official 5e book, if I recall correctly.

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  25. I think any of the WEG D6 games (Ghostbusters, Star Wars, DC Universe, etc.) would count, since the generic D6 books are all OGL now and new versions like Mini Six have popped up.

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  26. Warhammer: 2nd Edition was very similar to 1st Edition, I played 1E adventures without trouble in 2E. Which is funny, because there was a hilarious "review" by Ryan Dancy at one point that called 2E WFRP a "thinly veiled copy of 3rd Edition D&D", which was laughably false to anyone who had played both versions. I hear that 3E is going to release a book only version of the game without the board-gamey parts. I'm curious how playable it really will be. My collection is full of 1E and 2E books however.

    Traveller: Players tend to actually have strong opinions about which system to use. They just don't get mad when another fan likes another version. The Traveller fan base is united by setting, which D&D doesn't have. There may be Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms or Eberron fans, but D&D players are very diverse. Even Traveller gamers that wildly change the base setting are just happy to meet up with a fellow fan.

    WH40KRPGs: I really like Deathwatch and its brethren, but I must admit it is stretching the limits of the Warhammer framework. I keep wanting to go back and create a looser career structure for Dark Heresy, but I'm too lazy.

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  27. Dragon Warriors is in print again -- very old school, and staggeringly good. It's been my go-to game for fantasy roleplaying for more than 25 years.

    http://www.magnumopuspress.com/?page_id=10

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  28. WFRP 1e: "There are some brilliant bits to the mechanics (speaking of 1E, with which I'm most familiar), such as the career system, but even that is heavily tied to the Old World."

    The career system is very attractive. I love the idea that characters begin as rat-catchers and beggars, and - thanks to their Fate Points - might just become heroes. It also creates a unified and coherent world of NPCs - unlike the clear cut off between levelled heroes and 0-level NPCs in D&D (or the alternative, a world FULL of levelling heroes).

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  29. I love Dragon Warriors, one of my favourites, also I think Pendragon would have to count as being in print and being recognisable to it's origins.

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  30. Far Future Enterprises publishes reprints of classic Traveller and Twilight: 2000.

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  31. I was disabused of the notion that Traveller fans aren't divided by petty edition bickering by perusing the Citizens of the Imperium boards for a while. It was a cesspool! Supposedly there have been changes in the way those boards are run, but I'm not willing to go back to see.

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  32. "Traveller fandom isn't as prone to the "divisive silliness" that D&D generates"

    I can't wrap my brain around this. I guess there isn't any "divisive silliness" amongst Traveller fans when it comes to the rules (although the GURPS edition unfortunately received plenty of irrational hate, despite releasing years of great material under Loren Wiseman's watch). That said, there is a metric ton of "divisive silliness" when it comes to fans and the different Traveller settings.

    Rebellion. IRIS. Hard Times. Virus. Empress Wave. In my experience, all you need to do is just drop one of these words onto a Traveller forum in order to watch the flames commence. Frankly, I found that Traveller had such a hostile fan base when it came to setting discussions that it turned me off of interacting with other Traveller fans for years. I love the games. I love the different settings. I want nothing to do with other fans. :(

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  33. Also, while I'm commenting, thanks James. Stumbling across this blog and your enthusiasm for RPGs has reignited mine.

    You have no idea how much I enjoy hearing such things. Really.

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  34. OK, I'm jonesing for Space Opera now. See if I can shake 20 bucks loose from somewhere and use my own setting.

    Space Opera is an interesting little game. It's far from well organized and many of its rules systems are obscure (to put it charitably) BUT it's got a wahoo!/kitchen sink SF vibe to it that's very different than Traveller's more self-serious tone. I wish I'd had a chance to play it back in the day.

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  35. Star Frontiers?

    Is it still available in print? I know there are PDFs of it floating around out there, seemingly with WotC's blessing, but can you get a copy of the game itself in a physical form?

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  36. Dragon Warriors is in print again -- very old school, and staggeringly good. It's been my go-to game for fantasy roleplaying for more than 25 years.

    You know, this is a game I only heard about recently. I really ought to look into it ...

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  37. I can't wrap my brain around this. I guess there isn't any "divisive silliness" amongst Traveller fans when it comes to the rules (although the GURPS edition unfortunately received plenty of irrational hate, despite releasing years of great material under Loren Wiseman's watch). That said, there is a metric ton of "divisive silliness" when it comes to fans and the different Traveller settings.

    I think the rules hate is what the original author was referring too, but you're of course correct that Traveller fans are as vociferous as any when it comes to slagging settings for use with the game. Having been in the thick of things during the TNE days, I know this all too well ...

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  38. James, there's a slightly tweaked version of the Dragon Warriors core rulebook due out any day now -- do you want me to see if I can persuade James Wallis to get a review copy sent out to you?

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  39. do you want me to see if I can persuade James Wallis to get a review copy sent out to you?

    I (and my wallet) would be grateful if you could. I was just looking at the PDF previews of the Bestiary for the game and thought it looked very promising.

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