Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Two RPGs That Never Were

I've talked about D&D vaporware in the past, but, in re-reading Dragon as part of my "The Ads of Dragon" series, I was reminded of two TSR RPGs that were announced and never released. The first is Proton Fire, which was a robot-related sci-fi game originally scheduled to appear sometime in 1985. There was even an article by Mike Breault in the Ares Section of Dragon describing it. I can't say that, then or now, I was particularly aggrieved when I later learned that it wouldn't be coming out. (Actually, it was first re-assigned as a supplement to Star Frontiers and then cancelled outright) The basic premise of the PCs as robots and humans in the employ of "the University" fighting against "the Corporation" in a single star system 100 light years from Earth didn't strike me as particularly compelling. Indeed, Proton Fire -- what an awful name -- struck me as someone's pet project sneaked onto the release schedule amidst the chaos of the Blumes vs. Gygax battle royale.

Another abandoned TSR RPG came a few years later in 1991. I remember seeing the image above in a catalog of upcoming releases. I also remember thinking that it was TSR's hamfisted attempt to cash in on the popularity of the newly-released Vampire: The Masquerade, which, in retrospect, should have alerted me to the fact that TSR was in big trouble. No longer were other companies aping its products; now, it was aping theirs. The other thing that's obvious, looking at the image above, is how hastily put together it was. Not only is the R.I.P. logo spectacularly bad, but two of the three names on the cover are misspelled. Granted, it's a mock-up, so such things are to be expected. Yet, even 20 years later -- it really has been that long -- R.I.P. gives off a halfhearted vibe to me, as if no one involved really believed in the product.

I often wonder what became of the manuscripts for these games, assuming they were ever completed. If they exist in any form, I suppose they're probably the property of Wizards of the Coast now and will never see the light of day. That's too bad, not because I think either Proton Fire or R.I.P. were ever likely to have been good games, but because, like most creative endeavors, games tell stories about the people who created them and about the times in which they were created and I like those stories.

37 comments:

  1. The other finalists in the competition that begat Eberron are locked up in a Wizards vault somewhere, but I'd be surprised if something from this long ago is still held, particularly with the big move to Renton. I'd guess that anything not held by the authors has been lost or thrown out.

    I've seen it said that Planescape's factions were a "homage" to the clans of Vampire, but of course that was even later on.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like that the R.I.P. is the name. It's sort of like an inside joke between people on the production team.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've been obsessed with Proton Fire every since I first read about it 'coming soon' in Dragon.

    There are a few entries on it, what became of it and how it influenced other games I've run on my blog as well as on Jeff's Gameblog.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Could Proton Fire have influenced Cyborg Commando?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Could Proton Fire have influenced Cyborg Commando?

    I highly doubt it, since the last thing Gygax would have wanted (assuming he even was aware of Proton Fire) was to give TSR the opportunity to sue him over a legitimate grievance.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've seen it said that Planescape's factions were a "homage" to the clans of Vampire, but of course that was even later on.

    I'm not sure it's true, but I can certainly see how someone might reasonably draw that conclusion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I remember one ICE add about an upcoming Narnia RPG. It was something like "we will do the same thing we did with lord of the ring/MERP". I wonder that has happened with this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. See this is where the literary side of gaming appeals to me. I love to just read games (yeah, I know, sick) some games are better read than played (no, I will NOT say which ones :)

    I think it is what has added a boost to my own project is getting to read the histories of games and the people who created them.

    Who knows, maybe one of these 'lost' manuscripts will turn up (nudge nudge...anybody?).

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm not sure it's true, but I can certainly see how someone might reasonably draw that conclusion.
    I base it on a quote from the Sigil article on Wikipedia. I realise that's a bit dubious, but it's a sourced quote, from the 30 Years of Adventure retrospective put out by Wizards.

    I'll copy it here to save time:
    Sigil's fifteen factions were created because, "Vampire: The Masquerade was a particularly hot game at [the] time and one of the ideas in it that we really liked was the clans. Jim Ward wanted to be sure that players had something to identify with and to give them a sense of belonging in this alien venue [Sigil]."

    ReplyDelete
  10. Proton Fire was fully developed and playtested. It was still something of a mish-mash, because it evolved through several different "visions" on its way through production. Few people in R&D were terribly excited about it by the time it was finished, including those who'd originated the idea, because of all those changes in direction. Neither were distributors, as I recall, and that's why it was cancelled.

    R.I.P. was a non-starter. Very little work was done on it, beyond mocking up a cover. The "announcement" was more in the way of a trial balloon, to see whether there was any interest. There wasn't.

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  11. Back in the early 90s, I was involved in a playtest of a new horror game at TSR's "West Coast HQ" on Sepulveda Blvd. Scott Haring was one of the authors and was running the playtest -- I bet it was RIP, though I don't recall the working title we were given. I do remember having fun, and one time in particular of being attacked by a floating chainsaw. I don't recall a particularly "derived from Vampire" feel; our sessions played more like Chill or GURPS Horror (naturally for the latter, since Scott was the co-author of one of the editions that great supplement).

    ReplyDelete
  12. The quote from "30 Years of Adventure" is accurate. It's a simplification, of course, since you could just as easily add that Vampire's clans were based on Paranoia's secret societies, which were in turn based on Gamma World's cryptic alliances. It's an incestuous industry.

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  13. "I was involved in a playtest of a new horror game at TSR's "West Coast HQ" on Sepulveda Blvd."

    Ah, that would explain it. We very often were kept out of the loop about things happening on the West Coast. Or maybe it's my failing memory.

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  14. I remember seeing a RIP comic book (maybe even 2) under the TSR imprint.

    ReplyDelete
  15. No longer were other companies aping its products; now, it was aping theirs.

    And now I'm having Spellfire flashbacks. ::shudder::

    That's when I truly knew TSR was in trouble--not just jumping on the CCG bandwagon, but using recycled art to boot.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I actually like the name "Proton Fire." It has that delicious ring to it like "Lucky Starr" or "Battlestar Galactica." "Star Wars" doesn't excite me much as a name, considering around the same time I was playing an old raster-style video game called Spacewar! on my friend's Apple.

    I think Proton Fire (retooled a bit) probably would have made a good adventure. Not sure about a supplement, though, unless it had REALLY good advice on how to run and play. Even with 90 years of robots in literature (and longer, if you count mechanistic servants in "The Iliad" and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein") I really don't have the foggiest idea how to run the thing and make it fun for very long. Maybe if you could find loopholes in the Three Laws...

    ReplyDelete
  17. My knowledge of the classics has failed me; there are robots in The Illiad?

    ReplyDelete
  18. @kelvingreen:

    Kinda:

    Homer, Iliad 18. 371 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
    "[Hephaistos was] sweating as he turned here and there to his bellows busily, since he was working on twenty tripods which were to stand against the wall of his strong-founded dwelling. And he had set golden wheels underneath the base of each one so that of their own motion they could wheel into the immortal gathering, and return to his house: a wonder to look at..."

    ReplyDelete
  19. I would love to see a manuscript for RIP - I wonder if they used anything from the Ravenloft campaign setting Realm of Terror boxed set that TSR released in 1990?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Chris above is right. There was a series of TSR RIP comics released. I bought 3 or 4 way back when:

    http://www.comicvine.com/rip-comics-moduls/49-24536/

    Each comic also had a ready-to-play board game in the back, which was neat. RIP was one in a line of "TSR Comic Modules" and I recall one called Assassin and a Buck Rogers XXV too.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Interesting that Jim Ward came out with "Tainted Lands" just a few years ago, an attempt at a horror type RPG. I wonder if anything from RIP made it down the mists of time to Tainted Lands?

    ReplyDelete
  22. I actually asked Jim ward about these games on Dragonsfoot and he said there were flaws with the games. I'm surprised though that they would solicit or reference games and then cancel them.

    A friend of mine who had a Comics store in the early 90s actually showed me the catalog that had solicitations for RIP, so it was planned for a fall 1992 or 1993 release.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I think what happened with these games was that TSR decided to tie everything as close to D&D as possible.

    So RIP gets cancelled in favor of Ravenloft. Proton Fire in favor of Spelljammer.

    In other words, sell the customers different genres on the back of the 800 lb gorilla.

    ReplyDelete
  24. The vaporware rpg I lament the most is the Dune D20 game which appeared in the official WOTC catalog around 2000, but never published. I heard rumors of a few advance copies flashed about at conventions, but nothing else. Anyone can clue me in on that?

    ReplyDelete
  25. I heard rumors of a few advance copies flashed about at conventions, but nothing else. Anyone can clue me in on that?

    A very small number (was it 200?) of the Dune RPG (not d20, a different system) were distributed at one convention, but I can't recall which. They come up on eBay, and often go for quite a bit of money $100 - $200.

    ReplyDelete
  26. GenCon 2000 was where Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium was released, and was the only GenCon I've ever been to. As such, I was lucky enough to have a copy of the Dune RPG, and lament the fact that I never got any of the planned supplements for it.

    ReplyDelete
  27. The Proton Fire game sounds a lot like the racial history of the Mechalus race from Alternity. Is it possible that Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker had some knowledge of it?

    ReplyDelete
  28. That Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium was by the Last Unicorn Games folks (who were doing the Star Trek RPG at the time) and used the ICON ruleset (not to be confused with Steve Kenson's ICONS rpg).

    WotC put the remaining stock up for sale on their website after the con (limit 2 per household), where I picked mine up.

    As much as I remember Dune being released at that time, what I remember most was Decipher announcing they had the Star Trek rpg license at GenCon, which apparently was a surprise to the LUG folks who were there.

    Cue a few months later when Wizards cuts the LUG guys lose and lot of them go to work at Decipher, to put out the Star Trek RPG (and LotR).

    ReplyDelete
  29. In France, Kaballe was announced for years and was never published. The author gave me part of the manuscripts, but I was stolen later some of them. It was a class-based d30-only fantasy rpg.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Call me crazy, but I kind of like that 80's looking ad. I think there's still room for a b-movie inspired game. Something that isn't quite as "serious" as Call of Cthulhu. A game that fits the EC Comics/ Tales from the Crypt niche.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Tony, have you heard of Bloodshadows from WEG?

    ReplyDelete
  32. Is it possible that Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker had some knowledge of it?

    It's possible but unlikely, since I don't believe either of them was on staff at TSR at the time Proton Fire was being designed. Plus, ideas are cheap; I'm not sure Slavicsek or Baker would need to plunder Proton Fire for something like this.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Call me crazy, but I kind of like that 80's looking ad. I think there's still room for a b-movie inspired game. Something that isn't quite as "serious" as Call of Cthulhu. A game that fits the EC Comics/ Tales from the Crypt niche.

    I actually agree that a freewheeling horror game in the vein of EC could work. I'm just not impressed with the mock-up for R.I.P., which looks amateurish and cheesy.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I remembered that we discussed Proton Fire on the Acaeum about five years ago, and Mars reported that there's a 1985 TSR catalog with a page about it. It even lists the names of the first four planned modules:

    MX1 Planet Fall
    MX2 Silent Thunder
    MX3 Warbots Rising
    MX4 Warbots Embattled

    http://www.acaeum.com/forum/about4298-20.html

    (The MX1-4 numbers were later used for the Marvel Superheroes Nightmares of Future Past module series).

    ReplyDelete
  35. I actually agree that a freewheeling horror game in the vein of EC could work. I'm just not impressed with the mock-up for R.I.P., which looks amateurish and cheesy. -- Our Host


    You just described exactly why I like the ad. I would've purchased RIP in a heartbeat.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I remembered that Proton Fire came up once on the Acaeum. Mars found a 1985 TSR catalog with a page on it that even lists four module titles:

    MX1 Planet Fall
    MX2 Silent Thunder
    MX3 Warbots Rising
    MX4 Warbots Embattled

    The MX1-4 codes ended up being used instead for the Marvel Superheroes module series based on Days of Future Past.

    ReplyDelete
  37. About RIP, one should remember that TSR began publishing a comic-book that was supposed to tie-in to the game (IIRC something like a four-part mini-serie). Got one or two issues after which my FLGS didn't get any other. Never knew if the run stopped or they just couldn't get the following issue.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.