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Atlantean Trilogy Cover Atlantean Trilogy (1984, 1986)
Orig. Publisher: Bard Games
Curr. Publisher: Morrigan Press
Copyright: (c) 1984 Stephan Michael Sechi and Vernie Taylor (The Arcanum)
Features: extensive and diverse classes, combined skill and class character definition system, various styles of magic, interesting setting (Atlantean Earth) with significant detail

The Atlantean Trilogy (first edition) is another one of those games that is fun to read through simply because there is so much detail packed into the nooks and crannies of the system that you are likely to come across a quirky little idea you hadn’t noticed before, but that really strikes your fancy at the time.  These are the types of rulebooks and systems that I really like as resource material: not always the easiest games to actually play, but definitely fertile in terms of generating new ideas.

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Star Frontiers Cover Star Frontiers (1982)
Copyright: (c) 1982 TSR, Inc.
Advancement: Skill-based, ranks purchased with XP; attributes improved by XP expenditure
Features: Straightforward resolution system, sci-fi setting not rooted in existing movie/book license

Star Frontiers was an early sci-fi RPG that did fairly well for a time in the early 80s.  A large portion of the credit probably goes to it’s relative success in terms of generating and describing an interesting sci-fi universe to explore, without falling back on an existing license, and a free-wheeling, open-ended one to boot.  Anyone who played it probably has some fond memories of the Star Frontiers setting, particularly the alien races PCs were allowed to play (Dralasites, Vrusk, and Yazirians, oh my!)

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Chill Campaign Book CoverChill (1984)
 Original Publisher: Pacesetter Ltd.
 Current Publisher: Otherworld Creations, Inc.
 Original Copyright: (c) 1984 Pacesetter Ltd.
 Advancement: XP (Insight Points) spent to purchase skills, attributes
 Features: Skill system, horror/victim-based gameplay 

Chill is one of a subset of notable RPG titles (along with Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia, amongst others) which significantly deviate from the typical “Hero’s Journey” perspective built into most such titles.  Revolving as it does around gothic horror concepts, the characters are rather more expendible than normally assumed, and the challenges are generally vastly more powerful and resilient than the characters ever have any hope of achieving.  Chill is definitely an entertaining representative of the genre.

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Rolemaster Cover-original Character Law bookRolemaster (1982)
 Publisher: Iron Crown Enterprises (www.ironcrown.com)
 Copyright: (c) 1982 Iron Crown Enterprises, Inc.
 Advancement: Level/XP based, modified
 Features: Extensive skill system, individual weapon/attack charts, detailed critical hit system, massive magic system

If there is ever an award for the RPG system that best represents the phrase “More Is Better”, Rolemaster will be the title to beat.  From it’s inception, this has been the game that tried to provide detail and resolution options for Everything.  Three revisions (at least), dozens of expansions and alternate settings… if you need some inspiration on possible ways to handle anything, anything at all, the Rolemaster line has always been a good place to start searching.

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Cover for Tri-Tac FringeworthyFringeworthy (1984)
Publisher: Tri Tac, Inc. (www.tritacgames.com)
 Copyright: (c) 1982, 1984 Tri Tac Games
 Advancement: Level/XP-based
 Features: extensive hit location system, detailed rules for other physical stresses, guidelines for multiple levels of technology

Fringeworthy is a detail-packed game system first published by Tri Tac Inc. back in the early 80s. I like this title (and it’s close cousin that I happen to own, Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic) for the sheer volume of data provided on a variety of topics. The ’82 version can seem dry and chart-laden at first casual glance, but taking the opportunity to truly think about any randomly selected page can lead to some interesting extrapolations… the type of thing I truly love to find in an RPG rulebook.

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Pendragon Cover Pandragon (1985)
 Orig. Publisher: Chaosium Inc. (www.chaosium.com/index.php)
 Curr. Publisher (5th Ed.): White Wolf/Arthaus (http://www.white-wolf.com/arthaus/index.php)
 Copyright: (c) 1985 Greg Stafford
 Advancement: Two-part: Glory (vaguely xp-like) and Skills, d20-based (vaguely usage-based)
 Features: extensive personalitytraits system, “passions” system, novel gameplay goals

Pendragon was a wonderful title published by Chaosium back in the mid-80s which made the bold attempt to generate gameplay much more attuned to the ethos of the Arthurian romance: knights and ladies, chivalry and jousting, tournaments and courtly amor.  (Hack and slash dungeon crawls need not apply.)

In my opinion, it was quite successful at encouraging this style of play.  As a result, I’ve always found the design, which was also quite simple and concise, to be very inspiring.

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Freedom Fighters CoverFreedom Fighters (1986)
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
Copyright: (c) 1986 J. Andrew Keith, cover and interior art (c) 1986 William H. Keith Jr.
Advancement: Skills, percentile-based
Features: hundreds of defined skills, trait and motivation scores, verbal interaction resolution system

Freedom Fighters is another Fantasy Games Unlimited title from the mid-80s that has a lot of interesting ideas and concepts to explore.   It was sold as a typical boxed set with rule books, dice, and a sample adventure. 

While nearly all FGU games featured highly detailed and relatively complex rule systems, this one definitely stands out even in that crowd.  The sheer volume of detail packed into the two books that make up the rules, a total of about 180 pages, rivals that of systems with 2 to 3 times the page count… in part because only a handful of pages (maybe a dozen total) are dedicated to setting and plot options.  This was intentional: the setting was left to the GM to design.

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RuneQuest Cover RuneQuest (1984)
Publisher: The Avalon Hill Game Company (www.avalonhill.com)
Orig. Copyright: (c) 1978, 1979, 1980, 1984 Chaosium Inc. (www.chaosium.com/index.php)
Current Publisher: Mongoose Publishing (www.mongoosepublishing.com/index.php)
Advancement: Skills, percentile based, usage-based
Features: hit locations, initial character skills based on years per “occupation”, varied magic systems

RuneQuest was one of the titles that became available during the first major burst of releases in pen-and-paper RPGs, in the mid-to-late 70s. It was one of the games that succeeded in working it’s way into a limited number of mainstream outlets, toy stores and the like, mainly through the publishing agreement with Avalon Hill, I imagine. While it never became quite as well known as D&D, it was definitely a title you were aware of if you were at all involved in the gaming scene of the time.

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Eternal Soldier Cover Eternal Soldier (1986)
 Publisher: Tai-Gear Simulations (www.tai-gear.com)
 Copyright: (c) 1986, 1987 Tai-Gear Simulations,  illustrations by Steve Robinson
 Advancement: Skills, percentile based, purchased with XP
Features: attribute-based “aptitude” as a multiplier instead of addition, sequential action initiative system, one of the earlier “generic” systems

Eternal Soldier was a product I accidentally stumbled across while wandering the show floor at GenCon in 1987 or ’88 (not entirely sure which).  It was never widely distributed as far as I’m aware: the publishing company was essentially a small start-up formed to publish the rule set and see if it would sell (the best kind, IMO).  They didn’t end up hitting the jackpot, unfortunately, but they did create an interesting little game.

It’s essentially a “home-brew” rule system in book form, and as such has some interesting little twists I’d never run across in any other title before (or since, in some cases).

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This is the first in a series of many posts (hopefully) in which I will simply give basic overview of all the fun/cool/amazing/weird RPGs which have popped up over time, drawing upon my significant, um, investment in pen-and-paper RPG products over the years.  I’ll be concentrating more on the lesser-known titles for a while, the ones many might not have heard of… maybe a review of what has come before can spark some new ideas?

Lands of Adventure Cover Lands of Adventure (1983)
 Publisher:  Fantasy Games Unlimited
 Copyright: (c) 1983 Lee Gold, cover and interior art (c) 1983 Bill Willingham
 Advancement: Skills, %ile-based
 Features: unique attributes (Craft, Talent, Prudence, Voice), 3 “vitality” scores (energy, body, life), Piety system, extremely detailed magic system

Lands of Adventure is a fantasy RPG printed by Fantasy Games Unlimited back in 1983. As with most games of those years, it was a boxed set, containing rulebook, an introductory adventure, dice, and sample character sheet.  Lots of little twists in this one that make it an interesting little title.

The late 70s and early 80s were my favorite era in RPG history, because it was a very creative time.  The most common feature of the titles that hit the shelves was that they were trying new ideas, implementing new mechanics and concepts… essentially, seeing what worked well (and what didn’t).  This is less common today, with most publishers generally sticking to the tried and true, tying products to existing systems of mechanics like D20, White Wolf, GURPS, and the like.  (Note: nothing wrong with it, and it makes good business sense… it’s just not quite as exciting to a design fanatic like me.)

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