Friday, May 25, 2012

Open Friday: "Niche" Games

Last night I had the chance to play my first session of Dungeon Crawl Classics (I'll talk about it at greater length tomorrow) and I had a blast. As I said then, DCC RPG is a game that really won me over, despite my initial skepticism, because it was clearly not written to be a mass market crowd pleaser. That is, it's not a "generic" fantasy game, but instead comes with all sorts of mechanical, esthetic, and gaming cultural (e.g. the coolness of Zocchi dice) assumptions that not every gamer is going to share -- and indeed many will actively dislike.

Despite, I think DCC RPG is a great game. Indeed, I think much of its greatness comes from the very fact that it was designed with a niche audience in mind rather than a broad one. So, my question for today is this: what is your favorite "niche RPG?" By this, I mean a game designed for a small, specific audience that understands and appreciates its quirkiness in a way that a mass audience never could.

108 comments:

  1. I cant wait to get my copy either this week or next, but as far as a niche game I and my friends really enjoyed? Ghostbusters International
    Great fun to be haf there, but you really have to love the movie to get it. Of course Sandy Peterson helps too (from call of cthulhu)
    Good times

    ReplyDelete
  2. Does Burning Wheel count?  It's what I came in here to say, but I'm not sure how niche it really is.  You can make a fantastically strong case that it isn't for everyone, though.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Unknown Armies

    ReplyDelete
  4. Depends on how you define niche.

    It could be that any game other than D&D is a niche game...

    I would say that Burning Wheel is a niche game. I doubt it has an order of magnitude more interest than DCC... (and who knows, might have an order of magnitude LESS interest than DCC).

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  5. Harnmaster the only RPG where people get immersed because of the combat system.

    ReplyDelete
  6. HeroWars/HeroQuest Glorantha.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Antonio EleuteriMay 25, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    I always had a soft spot for Mechwarrior (2nd edition) the "stepchild" of the Battletech family.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sadly, I don't have time for niche games.

    ReplyDelete
  9.  Oh yes. Pendragon is a wonderful game, one of the best, but it's nowhere near as popular as it should be. The inherent limitations of the setting put a lot of people off, I think, and it's a shame.

    I've always been fond of Dragonlance: Fifth Age and think it deserved better.

    ReplyDelete
  10. That's tough. Right now, I'd say Fantasy Wargaming, but that's at least in part because I'm in the middle of an extended analysis and review of it on my blog. Next month, it could be Flashing Blades, or Lords of Creation. Damned gamer ADD.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Amber Diceless RPG! I haven't played it in a while but I love the damned thing. I really need to get on with writing a post on my blog singing the praises of  Amber DRPG in loving detail.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Maid RPG. I don't know how many roleplayers like maid girls and harem anime, but oh boy is there an RPG for them.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I would have to say Talislanta, Lacuna, and Sorcerer.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Agreed. Pendragon is a great games, but it's setting doesn't have much appeal in this day an age of the anti-hero fetish. 

    ReplyDelete
  15. Paranoia, first edition. 

    ReplyDelete
  16. Cartoon Action Hour

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't know if CoC counts as niche anymore, considering how popular the Mythos has gotten.  However, back in the day it was this weird game based on a then-obscure author in which PCs died or went insane on a regular basis.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Feng Shui.

    ReplyDelete
  19. King Arthur Pendragon for me too.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Luis M. RebollarMay 25, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Another Pendragon here.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Lamentati0ns of the Flame Princess

    ReplyDelete
  22. In days gone by, Bunnies and Burrows was a real niche game. I remember playing not really a live action game but a moving pencil and paper game in various locations around my friend's dad's smallholding. Niche. Maid RPG really does sound niche. I have in my naivety no idea what harem manga is although I can kind of guess. Sounds a little...um.....niche maybe?

    I have a great fondness for Forgotten Futures and I would say that definitely fits the brief.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Skyrealms of Jorune.

    But I'm currently reading Pars Fortuna - which is very niche - and itching to run that too.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Ha, Empire of the Petal Throne & all things Tékumel.  :~)

    ReplyDelete
  25. In the OSR-o-sphere, probably _Lamentations of the Flame Princess_.  Mechanically it's close to Basic D&D with some d20-inspired improvements, but the art scares people and the overall mood overturns conventions of heroic fantasy.

    Either version of _Carcosa_ fits too.  I'm not sure *I* like it, but it's certainly different and in a few places inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Oh... And I'm getting ready for the backlash on this one, but Holmes D&D is definately a niche game

    ReplyDelete
  27. Christopher SpatolaMay 25, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    I'm not sure if these ones count, but imho I would suggest:

    Champions
    Middle Earth Role Playing 
    Earthdawn
    Price Of Freedom

    ReplyDelete
  28. Burning Wheel. 

    ReplyDelete
  29. Ars Magica

    ReplyDelete
  30. "Don't Rest Your Head" and "My Life With Master" are two current favorites.

    ReplyDelete
  31. A Taste for Murder
    Swords and Wizardry WhiteBox

    ReplyDelete
  32. Niche RPG?  Isn't that a bit redundant?

    ReplyDelete
  33. I always liked Nephilim. History and magic(k). 

    ReplyDelete
  34. The definition of "niche" I'm seeing here confuses me. Burning Wheel is Crane's solution for all of the frustrations he had with various RPGs he played growing up. It's very much straight-up fantasy, with a heavy dose of Tolkien. In that sense, I don't see how it's "niche". If so, then most RPGs are "niche".

    And Champions... that's one of the most popular, legendary RPGs in the hobby.

    So, is "niche" simply a very specific focus? E.g., Blue Rose, which was a very specific take on fantasy, with many themes that were obviously not popular with mainstream gamer? Or Underground, which was a very radical, political take on superheroes?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Fight! plus Mecha are what i'm playing at the moment, but the niche game i've played most consistently would be C0C

    ReplyDelete
  36. It seems like most people who've replied so far have assumed that "niche RPG" just means generally "any game other than D&D", as Frank Filz proposed, rather than specifically "a game designed for a small, specific audience that understands and appreciates its quirkiness in a way that a mass audience never could", as James Maliszewski specified in his question.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Gustavo IglesiasMay 25, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Based on James' definition and the reaction I usually get when I bring it up, I'll go out and say Eclipse Phase is a niche RPG. Not everyone enjoys transhuman SF, and even among those who do, not everyone buys into EP's remarkably D&D-like Rule of Cool ("throw in stuff from every transhuman SF book you like") design. If D&D is, as Jeff Rients once said, "Conan and Gandlaf team up to fight Dracula", then EP is "Takeshi Kovacs from Altered Carbon and Jernau Morat Gurgeh from The Player of Games team up to fight the Inhibitors from Revelation Space."

    ReplyDelete
  38. I found myself nodding in agreement at many of the suggestions already made below, including games I owned myself (like Jorune) and those I didn't (like Pendragon).

    I found myself thinking about "Vampire," a game which I would've thought would have appeal only to a, "small specific audience that appreciates its quirkiness."  But instead it became wildly popular and captured the imaginations of a much bigger audience than I ever would've thought possible beforehand.

    I also found myself thinking about, "Runequest," or more specifically how the game came to be synonymous for years with the setting, Glorantha, and how that setting seemed to absolutely captivate a "small specific audience" that became consumed by every detail, no matter how minute or quirky.  I'd also heard that there were Glorantha conventions held from time-to-time in the past.  Surely that must be the very definition of "niche," even if the setting isn't technically a game.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Cosmic Patrol by Catalyst Games Labs.

    ReplyDelete
  40. All Flesh Must Be Eaten

    ReplyDelete
  41. Melee , Wizard  and the Microquest adventures.  They predated  4E Encounters by thirty years.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Yeah, I was worried about the limitations of the genre and GPC when starting out in Pendragon. It turned out to be completely unfounded as the party of all knights was in many ways more varied and dynamic than many campaigns with lots of different character classes.

    Also, I love the philosophy of magic is something that is done **to** you instead of by you.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I think my favorite "niche" RPG is Tekumel. Second would be Jorune. 

    ReplyDelete
  44. Troll Lord Games, The Harvesters - anthropomorphic C&C.

    ReplyDelete
  45. As  Mark Delsing, I don't see most of the games that people have referred as "niche". Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular games ever, for instance.My favourites "small or specific audience" games are:Poison'd (Vincent D. Baker)kill puppies for satan (yes, lowercase; satan can't afford capital letters)Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley)

    ReplyDelete
  46. As  Mark Delsing, I don't see most of the games that people have referred as "niche". Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular games ever, for instance.My favourites "small or specific audience" games are:Poison'd (Vincent D. Baker)kill puppies for satan (yes, lowercase; satan can't afford capital letters)Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley)

    ReplyDelete
  47.  As  Mark Delsing, I don't see most of the games that people have referred as "niche". Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular games ever, for instance.

    My favourites "small or specific audience" games are:

    Poison'd (Vincent D. Baker)
    kill puppies for satan (yes, lowercase; satan can't afford capital letters)
    Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley)

    ReplyDelete
  48.  As  Mark Delsing, I don't see most of the games that people have referred as "niche". Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular games ever, for instance.

    My favourites "small or specific audience" games are:

    Poison'd (Vincent D. Baker)
    kill puppies for satan (yes, lowercase; satan can't afford capital letters)
    Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley)

    ReplyDelete
  49. Tunnels and Trolls

    ReplyDelete
  50. Christopher SpatolaMay 25, 2012 at 8:25 PM

     Champions is known to those who are serious gamers, but not to most people who have dabbled in RPG's most likely just with D&D......I do not believe Champions ever received widespread publicity like D&D or a licensed game like Star Wars or James Bond 007. Just mho though.

    ReplyDelete
  51. There are more in my collection, but the niche game that is in my rotation at the moment is Greg Stolze's A Dirty World.  It's a great One Roll Engine game, but focused on creating film noir style games.  It's excellent at what it does, but its a game few people have heard of let alone played.

    ReplyDelete
  52.  Well, it does depend a bit on your definition of niche.  Still, within the RPG hobby, I think certain games are more widely known and/or played than others.

    I guess if I had a litmus test, I'd use what is stocked at my local FLGS.  Using your Burning Wheel example, no FLGS's I frequent (a total of three) stock Burning Wheel.  That seems like a decent measure, if not perfect.

    I'd consider Burning Wheel to be niche, but only barely so.  It has a
    bigger audience than some games...but not any of the real heavies
    (D&D, Pathfinder, Traveller, various flavors of d20 (including Star
    Wars, M&M, etc.), GURPS. 

    Hero System (of which Champions is a part of), is less niche, if only because while I don't think it has the audience it did 20 years ago, most people within the hobby at least know of it.

    ReplyDelete
  53.  Call of Cthulhu doesn't really meet James' definition of niche, IMO.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Cough. Cough. Champions Online.  Cough. Cough.

    Hero System is based on a license property.  In fact, the property belongs to the company that published the MMO (they bought it from Steven Long, and then licensed it to him for the purpose of PnP RPG publishing).

    Hero System has a very hardcore base of players...and it's been around long enough that most people know of it, even if they've never played it.  Hard to call it niche.

    ReplyDelete
  55.  Hard to call anything niche that's based on Tolkein.  I agree with you on Earthdawn and Price of Freedom, however.

    ReplyDelete
  56.  Yep.  I'd say Maid is about as niche as you can get.  I've not played it, though I did buy the PDF version on a lark when Drive Thru RPG had cut the price on it.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Christopher SpatolaMay 25, 2012 at 9:11 PM

     yeah, MERP was mentioned mainly because in my area NO ONE played it, let alone really read Tolkien's stuff even!

    ReplyDelete
  58. Christopher SpatolaMay 25, 2012 at 9:17 PM

     Yes, dozens of people enjoy Champions online lol, ass it moved to a Free-to-play model in 2011.

    ReplyDelete
  59. After the Bomb - I haven't played in ages and would probably overhaul the system, but this game was always a hard sell to the more staid players I knew.  Thinking about playing this a lot lately, probably switch the setting to a post-apoc Usagi Yojimbo inspired Japan though.  

    ReplyDelete
  60. Yes!  After the Bomb took all the best parts of the TMNT rpg (which I also have a lot of fondness for) and cranked up the volume.  The original cover art (the Laird one) is a classic.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Wholeheartedly agree.  Lots of fun focusing on the people of the Battletech world and not just the mechs.  You could go much more in depth on House Rivalries and the greater world instead of just tactical battles.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Sword's Path: Glory

    Most of the rulebook is hit location tables to determine whether or not you severed an artery or broke a bone.

    ReplyDelete
  63. Niche games?  I have a ton:

    - Justifiers RPG (part human, part animal: explore strange new worlds and shoot everything that moves)
    - 007
    - Talislanta (no elves -- just races that are elves, but we don't call them that)
    - Jorune
    - Synnibar
    - Risus
    - The Atlantean Trilogy (Bard games' stab at a D&D heartbreaker)
    I've played and enjoyed them all.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Niche game?

    I'd go with"Tabloid!" using the Amazing Engine books that never really caught on.  We ran it as a cross between gonzo goofiness of the Tabloid world and "Call of Cthulhu".   Elvis and Batboy were actually sinister agents of the Elder Things, etc...etc...but we've still got good stories to write! So get me pictures!

    ReplyDelete
  65. That's easy, Tunnels & Trolls!

    ReplyDelete
  66. I said the same thing. I love that game. I'm gonna play it this weekend with my wife and son. Khargrum's Trollcave of Boom! There is a goblin heavy metal cover band that plays classic metal (a bit out of tune)over the PA system of the cave while the delvers delve. :)

    ReplyDelete
  67. Then go take a look. It comes across surprisingly old school Oo

    ReplyDelete
  68. DCC RPG
    Trail of Cthulhu
    Thousand Suns

    I'd probably also say "Duty & Honour" and "Beat to Quarters" if I'd ever had the chance to actually run them.

    ReplyDelete
  69. The Danish Via Prudensia never hit it big, here in Denmark even if it's fun as hell to play...

    the only reference of value I can find, is this:

    [Via Prudensia 1st ed by Gimle Larsen, Ask Agger (1994) Modtryk


    A Danish-language universal RPG system with no specific setting. It
    is a 128-page A4-size book with a color cover. The rules are similar
    to GURPS and focused on combat. There is only a single edition and
    no supplements, but it has had some popularity within Denmark.]

    The statement is not totally true to the game, it actually had no less than 3 settings within it's pages. A generic near future cyberpunk setting, a present day real world setting and a fantasy setting named Harn (which only resembles the N. Robin Crossby Hârn in name). In my group we usually played present day world since we had WFRPG 1st. ed., AD&D and Dragonlance 5th age. to satisfy our fantasy need and CoC 5th. ed. for the horror we craved.
    VP had some really quirky mechanics, sadly I can't recall what they were since it's been over 10 years since I last held a copy in my hand. For some reason they didn't print too many copies, but almost all danish libraries had a copy, sadly only 2 remain, the rest has been stolen by fans who couldn't get their hands on a copy.

    Now that's a niche game as per JM's definition ;)

    ReplyDelete
  70. It's strange what becomes a 'niche' RPG and what 'mainstream'. It seems to have very little to do with popular culture outside RPGs.

    For example Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes was niche while D&D was mainstream. But James Bond, Day of the Jackal and the like were probably more popular than fantasy.

    Likewise Blue Rose is niche, even though the type of fantasy that it mimics is easily more popular than sword and sorcery.

    If RPGs followed popular culture the most popular RPGs would be Marvel Superheroes and Witch Girl Adventures.

    ReplyDelete
  71. A friend of mine got his hands on a pad with posterboard-sized sheets of paper when we were kids.  We made up a game called "RELMES" that that featured dungeon exploration, use of miniatures, and drawing the map out as the characters decided where to go.  It was a one-on-one game but the single player controlled a party.  It was extremely rules light.. How's that for niche?

    ReplyDelete
  72. Reverance PavaneMay 28, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Most of the games I play and run are "niche."  But at the moment if I have to choose one, I'd say Abandon All Hope, mainly because I want to play it rather than run it.

    [Immediately after reading the rules I wanted to play a nuclear weapons engineer arrested by the Pan-Terran Meritocracy for possession of forbidden knowledge (viz-aviz my job) and shipped out on the Gehenna.  Not that I was expecting to ever use the "nuclear" part of the engineering, but it would give me a leg up on the robotics and automation side of things.  So little time.  So much to do ]

    ReplyDelete
  73.  This is a very good point, I think.  The fact that "mainstream fantasy" genre has always dominated the pen-and-paper RPG hobby marginalizes other genres within the hobby, including super heroes and espionage, that are much more broadly popular in the mainstream culture. 

    The fact that several people below have enumerated super hero and espionage games testifies to that. 

    That being said,  my personal experience as a junior high kid around 1983 was that the "James Bond 007" RPG from Victory Games came closer than any other RPG of the time to challenging the primacy of AD&D.  At least among my friends and acquaintances.

    ReplyDelete
  74. I would have liked to put Nobilis here, but though I grasped the concept, there where few takers on actually playing it. So, I'll go with a game that I actually played. Everway was a unique game that I don't think was meant to be a niche game, but because of its uniqueness it never took off. I had a immense amount of fun with the game, and it inspired me to collect artist card sets that where readily available in the early 1990's. Me and my players had a blast with it and was a good interlude game between regular rpg offerings.

    ReplyDelete
  75.  I love the Amazing Engine and as I had said above about Everway, I don't think TSR put the system out anticipating a niche game. In the end it was. I'll add that all the books where unique and I had a successful GMing Bughunters, Galactos Barrier and almost Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega. To date it has been the longest run of an rpg campaign with a little over a year playing weekly. The other games I would've liked to play, but my group disintegrated before  could was; For Fairy, Queen and Country. Kromosone and Tabloid. Tabloid I had planned on using the Weekly World News publication for inspiration. I've reacquired all the books again and hope to entice some gamers to give it a try. (Using Bughunters as the gateway.)  Anyone who might be interested you can buy the whole set, very cheaply from Paizo.

    ReplyDelete
  76.  Funny.  Yeah, it turned out to be a garbage MMO...but it did have a much ballyhooed launch a few years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  77.  Hmm.  MERP.  My wife has a couple of the books, but I've never played.  I like my fantasy a whole lot darker than Tolkein.

    Was MERP as table heavy as Rolemaster?  If so, that would likely explain why it never caught on.

    ReplyDelete
  78. I actually think there's a little bit of an older, younger dichotomy on the dominance of  D&D (and by extension, Fantasy) as the 400 lb. gorilla of the RPG market.

    I think the divide starts with folks who were gaming prior to Vampire, and those who weren't.  I'm firmly on the older side of that dividing line (my first RPG, Traveller, I bought in 1978), but fantasy is only a secondary genre for me.

    For younger folks, who came into the hobby long after the late 1970's/early 1980's D&D boom had faded, and particularly those who came in courtesy of White Wolf's OWOD games, which was the last time I think the hobby brought in huge chunks of new gamers, never have had the same attachment to sword and board fantasy we grognards have.

    I know, from my experiences with my own teenage sons, that fantasy is well down the pecking order of popularity (well behind Star Wars, post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy, horror, and straight up space opera), and the fantasy I run for them when I do run fantasy, doesn't at all resemble my own games of the Reagan years.  Dungeon crawls (and more generally, gobs and gobs of combat) are out and story is in.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Teenagers From Outerspace. One pretty much had to be an Anime fan (and Urusei Yatsura in particular) to 'get' this little gem.

    ReplyDelete
  80. Tabloid is fun with the right group, otherwise it might be a little too "unserious" or unfocused for some people. It's even better if they're decent writers of "news" stories to summarize.  That was half the fun, seeing what players would come up with to turn in to their editor. Wish I'd saved a bunch of them.

    I did enjoy Bughunters and Meta: Alpha to Omega. Kromosome as written is such an amusing product of its time, has that early 90's understanding and expectations of the internet and the web...

    ReplyDelete
  81. Time Lord: The second Doctor Who RPG.  The system felt good, was simple but intuitive.  It was designed for who fans.   It had a system I've never seen replicated, and when I got it (the digital version) it had also added a character creation system.

    ReplyDelete
  82. Same here. Toon is so fun I played it during my bachelor party.

    ReplyDelete
  83. Can't believe no one has mentioned Bunnies and Burrows! How niche is that? Played it quite a bit when it launched, but the players wanted to return to AD&D. Found my original rulebook the other day too, still in good condition. Ahhh bunnies!

    ReplyDelete
  84. Perhaps it was a misprint:

    "Is this the game with rabbits in it?"

    "No, elves."

    ReplyDelete
  85. Nicholas BergquistMay 29, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    Yep T&T is as fantastically niche as it gets, love it!

    I'd add Monsters! Monsters! to the list for a niche-within-a-niche experience as well. and MSPE.

    ReplyDelete
  86. My kids like to play Bean!

    ReplyDelete
  87. Swedish"Western". I also like "Barbarians of Lemuria" , "Operation Fallen Reich" and "Dogs of W*A*R (a real mans roleplaying game)".

     In addition I have a great love for "Harnmaster", but im not sure if thats really niche per the definition.

    ReplyDelete
  88. One of the most fun niche rpg I've ever played was Everway. At the time there was nothing like it. (OMG diceless!) I dare say nothing like it since. I really, really regret selling it a few years back. It is one of those games that hibernate in the back of your mind then pops out occasionally and you really want to try it again.

    ReplyDelete
  89.  I am one of the few that have a fondness, if not love, for the Amazing Engine system. I had a group that played weekly and we went through Bughunters and Galactos Barrier before the group disintegrated. (It was an ongoing campaign for a year. To date this is the longest campaign I'd ever run.) I never got to Tabloid! but really wanted to. I knew it would've been a hard sell for my group and we probably would've ended up playing Kromosone or Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega. With Tabloid! I was particularly interested in using the Weekly World News as inspiration. 

    ReplyDelete
  90. May someday you find takers on actually playing Nobilis!

    ReplyDelete
  91. I'd say that people get immersed in Harnmaster _despite_ the combat system. Slowly bruising each other into incompetence never did ti for me.

    ReplyDelete
  92. My favourite niche game would probably be Amber DRPG. Had years of fun running that.

    ReplyDelete
  93. So, don't let the players wear armor everywhere.

    ReplyDelete

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