An alternate universe I sometimes imagine is one where Avalon Hill, instead of passing on this weird little not-quite-wargame called Dungeons & Dragons, publish it and the center of the RPG universe becomes not Lake Geneva, Wisconsin but Baltimore, Maryland. It's an implausible scenario for a number of reasons, but it's fun to contemplate anyway, not least of all because I suspect my life would have been rather different had the publisher of D&D been in my own backyard rather than halfway across the country. Still, Avalon Hill did make a go, though something of a halfhearted one, at entering the RPG market and one of its more interesting products was Lords of Creation, written and designed by Tom Moldvay, the much-beloved editor of the 1981 Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons.
When I say "interesting," I don't mean that sarcastically. Lords of Creation really is an interesting game and I kind of regret now that I never played it when I had the opportunity to do so at the time of its release in 1984. Avalon Hill made a strong effort to secure a space for their RPG products. Lords of Creation, along with Powers & Perils, RuneQuest (produced under license from Chaosium), and James Bond 007 (acquired when AH bought Victory Games), were all readily available in toy stores, which is where a friend of mine first saw it. Also available were three boxed adventures that, for my money, are even more interesting than the game itself, if only because they show just what a Lords of Creation campaign would be like, something the rules themselves don't do as well as I'd wish.
In concept, Lords of Creation assumes that all PCs, though beginning as relatively ordinary people, have the potential to become a "lord of creation" -- an advanced being with the ability to warp time and space according to his whims. Indeed, the highest level a PC can attain gives him the ability to construct entire worlds, thereby providing an interesting segue for a player to himself become a referee, using the worlds his character creates as the basis for new adventures and campaigns. As I said, characters begin without any special powers, attaining them only through the expenditure of experience points. XP was granted "at the GM's discretion" for a variety of in-game actions, but the most prominent action was the defeating of foes, all of whom had explicit XP awards associated with them. Because, as in D&D, the amount of XP to reach high levels is often astronomical, players are always on the lookout for more sources of it, often leading (in my limited experience anyway) to characters scouring the universe for any and every foe to feed their insatiable XP hunger.
That's a shame, because, in concept, Lords of Creation is a delightfully trippy multi-genre RPG, combining fantasy and science fiction with glorious abandon. It's a game where a murder at a game convention might uncover time traveling aliens in league with the Norse gods who are battling a Voodoo cult led by a mutant dinosaur high priest. Literally, anything can happen and the game provides a perfectly viable rationale for it all in the form of the lords of creation, not all of whom use their powers for the same purposes. Thus, there can be magic, super-science, occult powers, gods, demons, fictional characters brought to life -- you name it. It's a bit silly, if you think too hard about it, but why would you want to do so? But this isn't Encounter Critical; it's not an affectionate in-joke about the hobby or geekdom or anything like that. No, this is a game where Detective Chimp would feel right at home and caters to gamers who understand that, just because you, the player, don't take seriously the notion that Easter Island is a scrapyard for Atlantean robot heads, there's not a good adventure for your character based around that idea.
I'm pretty sure that Lords of Creation was a terrible flop for Avalon Hill. I never met anyone who played it for very long and my own limited experiences suggest that, in 1984, gaming was already too self-serious and narrow in its genre conventions to embrace a game like this wholeheartedly. Goodness knows I was and I looked very skeptically at this game, despite repeated attempts by a friend that we start playing it. Nowadays, I think something like this would get a better hearing. We've seen enough "multi-genre" games not to find the concept so bizarre and I think gamers, while still often self-serious, are much more willing to give wacky ideas like this a try than they were in 1984. Or at least so it seems to me.