Or: Games I Have Known. For the sake of my patience and yours, I have mostly restricted this to games I either owned or played – ones where I read a friends’ rulebooks and only dimly remember have been ignored, with a couple of notable exceptions. If you want to know more about any of these, you have but to ask. Games listed in order of my encountering them:
Dungeons And Dragons: The original in its simpler and frankly more elegant form. If you’ve ever played a computer RPG, you’ve played this, pretty much.
Advanced Dungeons And Dragons: Sprawling Gormenghast-like monster with 20 rulebooks that somehow became the most popular RPG in the universe. The default setting for most “I Was A Goblin” posts.
Runequest: Bronze age heroes quest for somewhat obscure runes. Lovely detailed background, elegant playing system, the Mac to D&D’s PC.
Tunnels And Trolls: As the name suggests this is a barefaced rip-off of D&D, and stands in relation to it much as Captain Marvel does to Superman – a more whimsical and personal copy. Arbitrary, near-unplayable, hated by serious gamers.
Call of Cthulhu: Deserves its own post – highly radical game of battling Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep and other nasties in the 1920s. And by “battling” I mean “getting killed by”. Adored by serious gamers (though rarely actually played).
Chivalry And Sorcery: To be honest I never played this medievalist RPG, I just marvelled at its apallingly elaborate character generation process, which could take an entire day – and your character could get randomly killed before the game began. Famous for its rules complexity – only Iron Crown’s Rolemaster series, which had an entire rulebook for wilderness terrain movement, was worse.
Traveller: Market-leading sci-fi game which did its character stats in base-16. I played in at least 3 Traveller campaigns which were all aborted after a single session. Popular but actually quite boring to play.
MERP: Stood for Middle-Earth Role-Playing, a huge-selling Tolkein adaptation which failed on all counts to capture the books’ atmosphere. Best loved for its gory tables detailing the outcomes of particularly effective hits. “Eye Gouged Out: Lose 50 from Perception.”
Marvel Super Heroes: Simple but effective superhero game which replaced numbers with words in stat descriptors. I never played the DC equivalent because DC Comics were for losers, but it had a LOGARITHMIC stat system! L33t!
Toon: Acclaimed RPG where you played a cartoon character, Tex Avery style. I never played it and I never met anyone who had but everyone thought it a capital idea.
Killer: Similarly admired more than played, this was a ‘live-action’ game where the object was to assassinate other players with dart guns, balloons marked “this is a bomb” etc. The missing link between RPGs and Office team building days. Variants survive on the net. I suspect playing this these days may result in your actually being killed.
Judge Dredd: Can’t remember anything about it but I swear I played it. One of a flood of mid-80s licensed games, most of them terrible. Nobody used the ricochet bullet, by the way.
Fighting Fantasy: Roleplaying variant of the gamebook series – ultra-simple intro to roleplaying but not all that bad.
Maelstrom: Puffin Books’ attempt at its own original RPG – pretenses to realism, set in 17th century England, VERY BORING INDEED. Characters did nothing but haggle with apothecaries and fail to catch cutpurses.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Late-period British entry, and the last hurrah for Games Workshop before it concentrated on hawking miniature space orcs to small boys. Worked hard on its corrupt Renaissance Europe atmosphere, which made it too acquired a taste for mass appeal.
Shadowrun: The beginning of the end. Orcs and wizards mixed crassly with cyberpunk, became stupidly popular and kickstarted gaming’s late-80s “fusion food” era – more and more convoluted mixes of genres culminating in…
TORG: Which tried to combine everything, AND work as a sort of pre-online Massively Multiplayer game AND involve then-fashionable ‘story card’ play. Possibly the most ambitious RPG ever made. The mechanics of all this would require a whole other post (to be honest I loved it, though it should have been dreadful). Fantastic production values too.
Pendragon: Game of Arthurian knights, very light on rules and long on storytelling. Lovely design and atmosphere – frankly this is the one game I would still really like to play.
Ars Magica: Wizards in medieval Europe fight in warring houses, proto-Potter style. which innovated in how it involved character personality in game design. Became extremely hot and fashionable in gaming circles in the early-90s – my regular gaming partner LOVED it. In retrospect though only the harbinger of…
Vampire: The Masquerade: Wildly popular goth farrago which became the most popular RPG of the 1990s and shifted the demographics of the entire hobby. In some ways the final triumph of ‘character play’ over ‘rules play’, but the phrase “Beware of what you wish for” has never been so apt. The final break for me and RPGS – well, rules-based RPGS…