Fringeworthy is one of those games for which I remember seeing advertisements in the pages of Dragon but never actually saw on the shelf of any game store I visited. Heck, that can be said of the entirety of Tri Tac Games's catalog. Consequently, the game acquired an air of mystery about it in my imagination. Mind you, other RPGs were similarly out of reach for me as well. What made Fringeworthy different from, say, Witch Hunt or Ysgarth was that I was actually intrigued enough by its ads that, had I seen a copy, I would have bought it.
As it turned out, I never did get my own copy of Fringeworthy. However, while in college, I met someone who did own a copy (the 1984 second edition pictured here) and I was finally able to read it. First published in 1982, Fringeworthy is the brainchild of Richard Tucholka, whose name has appeared here before as one of the authors of The Morrow Project. Fringeworthy, though sharing a certain "family resemblance" to Tucholka's earlier effort rules-wise, is very much its own game in terms of its subject matter. Fringworthy postulates a near-future world in which a team of Japanese Antarctic researchers stumbles upon an ancient system of portals that allows travel to alternate and alien worlds. Use of the portals depended upon an alien crystal-based technology that worked only for a select few individuals. Such individuals were deemed "Fringeworthy" by the press and the name stuck.
Naturally, the PCs are among those rare individuals who can use the alien crystal technology to travel between worlds. Such travel is placed under the jurisdiction of an international body, the United Nations Survey Service, which organizes Inter-Dimensional Exploration Teams to visit the other worlds accessible through the portals for knowledge, technology, and allies, the latter being especially important as it turns out that others already have access to the portal system and not all of them are well-intentioned. It's frankly a terrific set-up for a roleplaying game campaign, all the moreso when you consider that this game is nearly thirty years old. In 1982, there was nothing like it on the market and science fiction RPGs were invariably space operas of one variety or another. Had I been able to snag a copy when I first saw those ads in Dragon, I have little doubt that I'd have wanted to run Fringeworthy with my friends.
Except, of course, there's that similarity to The Morrow Project I mentioned above. As amazing as Fringeworthy's central concept is, its rules left something to be desired. Characters possess a large number of stats, both generated and derived. There are also skills, the list of which is quite extensive, including such invaluable ones as "Food Processing" and "Cosmetology," among many, many more. This level of detail is found throughout the rules, with lots of attention given to combat, damage, and weaponry as you might expect from a game of this period. However, there's also similar detail given to most other subjects, including disease and the nutritional value of various foods. Fringeworthy is thus a perfect exemplar of Silver Age RPG design -- "realism" and "completeness" are vital, even if they require an increase in complexity and a concomitant decrease in easy playability.
For all that, though, Fringeworthy remains a good idea for a RPG. The game includes lots of useful and inspirational random charts to aid the referee in creating the various alternate and alien worlds accessible through the portals. I remember finding them remarkably clever, with examples provided to show how to make best use of them. Though written dryly, Tucholka's enthusiasm for his game nevertheless comes through. Reading through the rulebook, I found myself regularly coming up with ideas that either riffed off what was written in its pages or were wholly of my own invention. To me, that's the measure of a good RPG book. My issues with the rules system aside, Fringeworthy is a classic and it's a pity that it's not more widely known than it is.