So #fourrpgs was a popular topic a while ago and, like most people, it was a great nostalgia trip seeing so many old systems referenced so fondly. Someone just posted their own list and I realised I hadn’t done the same, so here we go. The four tabletop RPG systems that have influenced me the most and we start in probably a predictable place…
Advanced Dungeon & Dragons (2nd Edition), first published 1989
My fantasy gaming timeline goes roughly like this…
I’d played some first edition with some scrappy books I’d found in the school library but it was with the advent of my first job and the release of 2nd edition that I my interest went into overdrive. Having disposable income mean’t I could head into town on a Friday afternoon with my pay packet, head to the Virgin Megastore, down to their RPG section and hoover up all manner of new and excting things. What I loved about 2nd Edition was that it seemed to be a streamlined version of 1st with a set of core rules that seemed to have taken all of the random magazine articles, side bars in books and every other source of information, distilled it and given us a complete system.
Some people were horrified that only four character classes were covered but I thought was a great idea, you take a base class, you then tweak and modify and play it how you want. This would be further enhanced by player books that would come out but everything was optional and felt optional. I also think 2nd Edition came to defined by the sheer number of game worlds available, old favourites like DragonLance and Forgotten Realms were updated but new ones such as SpellJammer, Ravenloft and the perennial Dark Sun were so richly designed and great fun to play in. Ultimately I think what this game taught me is that you could use as many of the rules or just the straight core ones and it remained an eminently playable system.
Even with THAC0.
And Vancian Magic, I’ve never liked Vancian Magic.
Ars Magica (2nd Edition), first published 1989.
First published in 1987, this version was published in 1989 but I didn’t come across it until 1992 when I picked up “The Stormrider Jump Start Kit” (akin to the starter box sets we see so often these days but back then this was a novelty). I’d been a fan of playing magic users for some time through my D&D exploits and this system seemed a natural progression.
In this world you take on two characters in the middle ages, a Mage in the order of Hermes and one of his companions. You would play either one and typically a party could be a combination of both character types. The magic system would take the form of two parts of a verb and then a noun, all in Latin. So casting “Creo Ignem” would produce fire based on your scores in those techniques with D10’s. Some excellent supplements would help define the background further and enrich the game universe into one of my firm favourites.
Call of Cthulhu: Delta Green, first published 1997
I’d never really fancied Call of Cthulhu (or CoC) as it always seeemed to be set in the 19th century with victorian style investigators on a ghost hunt. That changed for me in 1997 with the publication of one of the finest game supplements I’ve ever read. Delta Green used the CoC system for character creation, combat, etc but the setting was brough right up to modern times. The enemies and ideas were still the same but they took a very modern twist.
Playing the game in the modern context would ultimately lead my interest to other games of CoC but it can be a brutal system, during a run at the Masks of Nyarlathotep I went through three characters in the space of 6 sessions of the game, one killed outright and the other gone insane. Since that release there was only one other book released in the same vein as well as other fiction based books and a short lived independent magazine.
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, first published 2013
I’d played the West End Games version of Star Wars briefly (you rolled D6’s for everything) and I’d played the Wizards version even more briefly but nothing really prepared me for how much I was going to get into Edge of the Empire (or EotE). In 2009 Fantasy Flight Games had published the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay (WFRP), I’d played the original many, many years ago (at school you either played D&D of WFRP and the twain rarely met). FFG’s version of the mechanics was so different (reliance on cards for characters, custom dice, etc) that many veterans were put off. I did play this and found it wasn’t a particularly easy game to get into, even creating a character (arguably the most important part of Players Handbook seemed confused and just not easy). This version of the game saw its last published material in 2012 and FFG confirmed in 2014 that the system had run its course.
Anything connected with Star Wars is always going to interest me (first film I ever saw at the cinema) and whilst I might have had issues with the design of their version of WFRP some of the ideas and production values had definite value. EotE took the ideas that worked (such as custom dice), ditched the ones that didn’t and produced a system that has the feel of the universe it so famously inhabits. Additional worlds focusing on the Rebellion and the Jedi would utilise the same rules system but with different and more suitable characters but I don’t either one has really captured the essence of the universe in the same way as this one did.