Jul 06

I WAS A GOBLIN: Encyclopaedia Goblinica

FT/18 comments • 2,518 views

TORG!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…


  1. 1
    alex on 25 Jul 2006 #

    OMG. It’s like looking into a deep dark well, and recognising that my former life lies at the bottom of it.

  2. 2
    Alan on 25 Jul 2006 #

    Wot no Paranoia?

  3. 3
    Tom on 25 Jul 2006 #

    I never owned or played Paranoia! I had a friend who owned it but we never got round to doing anything.

    (A lot of these I only played once. I owned about half of them: one of the perennial evils of gaming was buying games that you never played.)

  4. 4
    Alan on 25 Jul 2006 #

    Also missing here: The Dr Who RPG! It could have been our GM, but it was really unplayable. I forget anything about the system, except that the TARDIS had a cyberbomb in its complement, which put paid to a lot of scenarios.

    I also vaguely recall playing an (old skool) Star Trek RPG – but that might have been my StarFleet Battles playing friends on overdrive. If you are very lucky I might write about SFB.

  5. 5
    Tom on 25 Jul 2006 #

    Yeah my experience with the Dredd game scared me off things like the Who one.

  6. 6
    Sarah on 26 Jul 2006 #

    Ha ha ha. Readers of LJ community diggerdydum may soon find themselves reminicising about Dr Who vidgames sooner than they expected.

  7. 7
    Pete Baran on 26 Jul 2006 #

    The best thing about licensed games in the 1980’s was that it was pre-the interweb, so sourcebooks on the game became your one stop shop for finding out about tricky old continuity and backstory you never knew. The Dr Who one was quite poor at this, as it was written by Americans thus priviliging the Tom Baker years rotten, and being sniffy about Colin Baker cos they hadn’t seen his episodes yet.

  8. 8
    Tom on 26 Jul 2006 #

    I think this was at the root of some people’s distaste for the Marvel game – it laid out in no uncertain terms that the Hulk was stronger than the Thing, etc.

  9. 9
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 26 Jul 2006 #

    presumably part of the deep point in these games is to set up possible situations where wee david the hobbit with his CHARISMA POINTS 1 and his SLINGSHOT can in fact unexpectedly beat goliath the necromancer CHARISMA POINTS 1000000 and MAGICKAL PANZER TANK WITH DALEK KNOBS ON

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 26 Jul 2006 #

    That was part of the journey between roleplaying with wargaming stats (the earlier games – D&D nicely sidestepped by being too basic sometimes) and some of the later games. The arc was the early games quite simple, but often boiled down to fighting. Middle games turned into rule fests, as the idea of more tables to show what happens when you fall from great heights meant better storytelling. And then they realised storytelling breaks all the rules and so had to be factored in (Fate Points or Hero Points type systems). And Ghostbusters of course where anything goes.

    Another nice thing with licensed games was you could work out if the game was good by seeing if something which happened in the comic / tv show etc COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN IN THE GAME. Answer was often no.

    *Also I played Judge Dredd and we used ricochet bullets to shoot people hiding round a corner, using Mega City One logik that hiding round a corner = up to no good = guilty).

  11. 11
    CarsmileSteve on 26 Jul 2006 #

    the Judge Dredd system was heavily based on warhammer/WFRP in terms of its stats and stuff.

    i also owned toon, but never played it.

    GOLDEN HEROES was GW’s own superhero game and had an horrendous character generation system which took hours and hours becuase you had to work out WHY yr hero had this entirely random set of characteristics…

    does anyone want a 3,000 point goblin and orc army, by the way?

  12. 12
    Martin Skidmore on 26 Jul 2006 #

    I played Toon once with too large a group of people, one of whom was a very serious gamer who kept moaning that we were messing about and not playing it properly, which seemed a particularly good case of point-missing.

  13. 13
    Tom on 26 Jul 2006 #

    This is sort of what I feared wd happen if Toon was ever played. :(

  14. 14
    Alan on 26 Jul 2006 #

    GOLDEN HEROES – that was the one! i remember playing that. not a lot of fun. I LIKED the “rationale” bit! I had “Neutrino Man” who was brillyunt, though he kept falling through the floor.

    Also, look what’s on my clipboard…

    stereolab are really good!!!
    — The Lex

  15. 15
    Al Ewing on 8 Aug 2006 #

    I’ve always been desperate to play Marvel Heroes but unfortunately the only roleplaying people I know are eternally stuck in a game of Emo Werewolf Wank or whatever it’s called. And now they all live in Scotland, presumably to better pretend to be a werewolf.

  16. 16
    Matthew on 6 Feb 2009 #

    I played a lot of Toon (and also a lot of Call of Cthulhu, as it happens). The rest of you were clearly just WEEKEND roleplayers.

  17. 17
    DV on 8 Feb 2009 #

    CoC is easily the game I have played the most. Deadly stuff. Ia!

    The game I have wanted to play the most is Bunnies & Burrows, which is about being a rabbit.

  18. 18
    justfanoe on 28 Apr 2009 #

    My cousin and brothers and I played a good bit of Toon. Great game. Though, it should be noted, I have never played another tabletop RPG, though I suspect I would very much have enjoyed them (probably still would).

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