Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Roll for mutations
May 27, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

old School Science Fiction RPGs: Traveller, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World.
posted by Artw (99 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuck yeah, Gamma World! I'll never forget the giant, intelligent mutated spider my buddy played. His name was Itsy-Bitsy.
posted by charred husk at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2010


I loved Gamma World and played it a bunch. Character-building and determining the mutations was really the best part to my third-grade brain (the same was true for the Elfquest RPG - the character sheets had those great Pini illustrations that you could draw onto). I had so much fun making a post-apocalyptic version of the area around my home town for a big campaign that never got played.

Traveller was for the bigger kids when I was playing these RPGs though. So many rules, so many books.
posted by dammitjim at 12:02 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I cut my p-n-p teeth on Traveller... miss those days.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 12:06 PM on May 27, 2010


It seems to me that the kids from my crowd that played Traveler went on to become engineers and mathmeticians, while those that played Gamma World (or Star Frontiers) went into more creative or softer careers. Does this hold true for anyone else?
posted by conifer at 12:07 PM on May 27, 2010


Gamma World was great fun! Our group included a mutated tortoise librarian and an intelligent marijuana plant from Jamaica (who was a cabdriver).
posted by JDC8 at 12:09 PM on May 27, 2010


I never really got off the ground on Gamma World. It seemed like fun, but I could never get critical mass for a decent game.
posted by Mister_A at 12:13 PM on May 27, 2010


I should point out that all three are still supported.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:15 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I realize that 4e isn't terribly popular around these parts (it's fun, really) but I think WotC is doing a 4e version of Gamma World later this year.
posted by khaibit at 12:22 PM on May 27, 2010


I loved Traveller, and also The Morrow Project has a warm place in my heart.

Looks like it's still supported, too.
posted by willmize at 12:27 PM on May 27, 2010


Am I the only one kind of surprised that these aren't by JHarris?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:29 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


You forgot Encounter Critical.

God, I loved that game as a kid. Almost as good as Star Frontiers.
posted by imneuromancer at 12:42 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember the Traveller ads from Dragon magazine, though I never played. They made an impression, however, as I'll often drop an extra "L" into traveler.
posted by grabbingsand at 12:45 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I realize that 4e isn't terribly popular around these parts (it's fun, really) but I think WotC is doing a 4e version of Gamma World later this year.

To be fair, the one 4E isn't popular with, I think, is me.

Am I the only one kind of surprised that these aren't by JHarris?

The sci-fi RPG I most like has a decidedly different tenor than these games. Rolling for mutations? That sounds like something only a Commie Mutant Traitor would do....

Metamorphosis Alpha, it should be stated, is a retro-clone, a new game made in the style of the old games.
posted by JHarris at 12:48 PM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


You forgot Encounter Critical.

Previously
posted by Artw at 12:48 PM on May 27, 2010


GAH... my mistake, Encounter Critical is the retro-clone, mea culpa. (This ostentatious latin term brought to you by the spirit of Gary Gygax.)
posted by JHarris at 12:51 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


FUCK YEAH! Loved those.

But is anyone here old school enough to have bought and played Metamorphosis Alpha when it first came out? I'm not. First edition Gamma World was my second-ever RPG, but MA was before even my time.
posted by edheil at 12:52 PM on May 27, 2010


Rolling for mutations? That sounds like something only a Commie Mutant Traitor would do....

You know, I probably should have waited a bit to see if they'd do a Paranoia piece as well.
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on May 27, 2010


Previous evidence of Commie Mutant TRaitors infiltrating the Azure Complex
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Gamma World is the game I most wanted to play, but never got a chance.
posted by lekvar at 1:04 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, I still have Gamma World 3rd edition in a box around here somewhere. That was such a neat game. My first step into more interesting RPGs than D&D. :)
posted by mordax at 1:05 PM on May 27, 2010


Gamma World and Traveller had two of the more interesting character creation processes.

And to reiterate what I said in the Tor article's comments, d20 Traveller is an abomination.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:09 PM on May 27, 2010


Paranoia? Pope G-LTY-5 approves!
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:10 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blackmoor + Metamorphosis Alpha + Expedition to the Barrier Peaks = Totally Awesome.

As to my old-school cred, I never played MA when it first came out, but I did wait anxiously for 1st edition AD&D to come out so that I could play a paladin. I also played the heck out of Traveller and Gamma World, but Star Frontiers has a very large spot in my heart.
posted by imneuromancer at 1:13 PM on May 27, 2010


Anyone remember Star Frontiers? With the Vrusks and the little blob guys and the sentient ape-like species with the skin-folds for gliding?
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:22 PM on May 27, 2010


Mutant Future is another retro-clone full of gonzo science fiction goodness.
posted by ktrey at 1:25 PM on May 27, 2010


khaibit: I realize that 4e isn't terribly popular around these parts (it's fun, really) but I think WotC is doing a 4e version of Gamma World later this year.

Yep. In October:
posted by digitaldraco at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2010


khaibit: I realize that 4e isn't terribly popular around these parts (it's fun, really) but I think WotC is doing a 4e version of Gamma World later this year.

Yep. In October: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Product.aspx?x=dnd/products/dndacc/254600000
posted by digitaldraco at 1:27 PM on May 27, 2010


Heh. If only there were enough people around to get a Mefi game of something running on Maptools or IRC or something.

Cortex: I attack the swamp troll with my +2 Hammer of Bann.
!roll 1d20

GMJess: You strike a mighty blow to the troll's kneecaps. Roll for damage.

...

If only.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:42 PM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


If only.
posted by cortex at 1:45 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Love to play any of these. (Or Traveller 2300, or Twilight 2000, or Jorune, or EPT, or...)
posted by fleacircus at 1:47 PM on May 27, 2010


It seems to me that the kids from my crowd that played Traveler went on to become engineers and mathmeticians, while those that played Gamma World (or Star Frontiers)...

This is hardly an either-or question. As a guy that has the German hardbound Aliens Encyclopedia signed by Miller as well as a copy of Zebulon's Guide and a very beat-up copy of Gamma Word 3rd ed. Although I'm still not quite sure what I turned out to be.

Traveller is kind of weird game that is, arguably, not actually designed to be played. You can spend days rolling up characters, who may die during the char gen process. You can spend hours randomly generating entire sectors of worlds on hex maps, detailing each down to the type of star, the number of planets and a fairly detailed ecology for each planet in a fairly hard SF manner - a lot turn out to be dirtballs, gas giants, etc. You can spend days reading the background material, of which there is a lot at this point considering that Mr Wiseman over at SJG is still cranking supplements out and writing Imperial News Service updates 20 years after he started. And then there's the starship building system which can consume many more hours of endless fiddling.

it's a very simulationist game on one level but the simulations are, oddly, too simple to really be properly simulationist. When it comes to things like skill checks and combat the original game was pretty bare-bones.

MT went even more crazy with vehicle design systems and more complex skill check systems but I never actually played MT with other people so I dunno how sluggish it is in practice. But man, that vehicle design system.

Which, oddly, ended up looking like kindergarten class next to T:TNE's "Fire, Fusion & Steel". Man. You seriously need an engineering degree to wade through that thing.

At any rate, my overall point is: someone please come and play Traveller with me because I have spent too long playing this game without actually playing the game.
posted by GuyZero at 1:47 PM on May 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Paranoia? Pope G-LTY-5 approves!

Which indicates that you were acting in a manner contrary to the Computer's wishes. This is treasonable and, as such, you have been summarily executed. We look forward to your productive future, Pope G-LTY-6.
posted by quin at 1:48 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: that link from the Tor site to the Traveller map? I could probably walk you through that thing from memory is, oh, an hour or two. Man I am one sad, lonely man with some unrequited RPG love here.
posted by GuyZero at 1:49 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, the key - and I mean KEY - to running a successful Metamorphosis Alpha campaign is to have your Gamma World books out the entire time and never let the players on to the fact they're actually playing Metamorphosis Alpha. Because the artifacts they're looking for are probably right behind that set of twin doors with all the suits in the little room between them.
posted by GuyZero at 1:51 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty: "Paranoia? Pope G-LTY-5 approves!"

Citizen, you are currently accessing information exceeding your security clearance. Please report to an autoconfessional at your earliest convenience or ask the closest designated Morale Officer to perform a code 17 on you. Thank you, have a nice daycycle.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:55 PM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jorune

Woah. I got some back-page Dragon ad flashbacks there.

Now, if you want obscure, Lord of Creation. There is a great old-school RPG. Omegakron is possibly the best RPG module, ever. I will defend it against all comers:

"In the ancient city of Akron, the domed strongholds of Novos Akros had achieved high-tech status at the cost of human freedom. Some semblance of the old democracy was maintained by the university area, now known as Old Akron. Most of the ruined city was controlled by five street gangs: the Psychos, the Death Angels, the Slashers, the Mohawks and the Rattlesnakes.

Intelligent, mutated animals ruled those parts of the city which had returned to primal forest. Mutant bands controlled fortified skyscrapers. Cyborgs mined the city ruins, while Androids, travelling in giant airships, carried trade across the radioactive outland.

The city was anything but safe. At night, people huddled indoors, for darkness was the realm of the cannibalistic Dirges. Even in the daytime, some new horror might wander in from the wasteland.

Had we arrived in this desolate world by sheer chance, or were other forces at work? And how did the cryptic message from our friend Prometheus fit in? Well, first things first. Right now we had to concentrate on survival...we could solve the puzzle later!"

Also: zeppelins!!
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gamma World, with the current WotC-favored mechanics? Ick.

I stand with JHarris. He's not the only one with whom D&D 4e is not particularly pop'lar 'round these here parts. Fact is, he's downright kindly to the Fawree folks as compared t'others, suchis m'self, who will yank that +3 Pitchfork of Bland Attribute out of some Fawree's paws and stickum through the gizzard with it.
posted by adipocere at 2:08 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm holding out for the White Wolf re-issue of Gamma World.

Vampire: The Irradiating.
posted by GuyZero at 2:11 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


What adipocere said, minus any self-awareness.
posted by fleacircus at 2:20 PM on May 27, 2010


Citizen, you are currently accessing information exceeding your security clearance.

D'oh! That's what Pope G-LTY-5/6 gets for reading the blue.
posted by JHarris at 2:25 PM on May 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


I remember seeing ads for Gamma World for years before finding an actual copy. I loved how much cleaner a lot of the mechanics were than D&D, and the random "treasure" table being stuff you scrounged or discovered. Robots & mutants for the win.

Modern games I'd point to in that vein would be octaNe or Apocalypse World.
posted by yeloson at 2:34 PM on May 27, 2010


Edition War! Edition War! 4e is the one true way!!

Ha, not really. Let 1000 flowers bloom (even the old stupid ones that I've hated since 1982).

Instead, dig on this incredible Traveller character creation thread and this amazing unofficial 4e revision of Gamma World (
posted by Sebmojo at 2:45 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


This brings up sad memories. I bought Gamma World and tried to play,but my friends were losing interest in gaming by that time in life. . I think we still played some d&d but no Gamma World. So sad. I think something called "girls" was the death of our gaming as teens. :)
posted by hot_monster at 2:47 PM on May 27, 2010


With the Vrusks and the little blob guys and the sentient ape-like species with the skin-folds for gliding?

Dralasites and Yazirians, respectively.

OH GOD WHERE DID THIS NECKBEARD AND WOLF MOON SHIRT COME FROM
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:54 PM on May 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was just thinking today about the breed of gamer that reads far more systems and books than they ever manage to actually play...I'm definitely in that camp, and happen to know that khaibit has that bug far worse than I.

(I'm excited because I'll be playing Shadowrun next week for the first time in like eight years. Which is definitely sci-fi, though not space-oriented...)
posted by kaibutsu at 3:01 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dralasites and Yazirians, respectively.

And the "enemy" race for extra points?
posted by GuyZero at 3:10 PM on May 27, 2010


Ooh ooh! Me me! Sathar!
posted by fleacircus at 3:12 PM on May 27, 2010


Nice timing. I was just digging through Traveller re-release books in ye olde game store yesterday. Sadly, I was never exposed to Gamma World as a kid. I think I would have loved it.

I loved Traveller, and also The Morrow Project has a warm place in my heart.

I am fascinated by The Morrow Project, and have been digging around to see what's out there on it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:20 PM on May 27, 2010


Cortex: I attack the swamp troll with my +2 Hammer of Bann.
!roll 1d20


Sir, that joke has been done.

By me.

:: Toots own horn. ::

posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:21 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking today about the breed of gamer that reads far more systems and books than they ever manage to actually play...I'm definitely in that camp, and happen to know that khaibit has that bug far worse than I.

I had the Call of Cthulhu fifth edition book for over a decade before finally getting to really start playing it a few months back.

Well worth the wait.
posted by JHarris at 3:23 PM on May 27, 2010


I'm kind of obsessive about the Delta Green stuff despite never having played it once and never being likely to play it... yes, that is quite nerdy and weird.
posted by Artw at 3:27 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh. My. God. Traveller.

Just looking at the picture of the cover gave me a rush of memory and excitement. Marvellous stuff. I wish we had that beautiful map to play with ...
posted by WPW at 3:28 PM on May 27, 2010


Compared to (classic) Traveller and (classic) Gamma World, Star Frontiers always felt a little too brightly lit, clean and cartoony. Traveller was gritty and dangerous, and even if Gamma World could be silly the backdrop of nuclear apocalypse was always there.

Now I want to run the X-Files-meets-Traveller campaign I daydreamed of in the 90s.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:36 PM on May 27, 2010


I wish we had that beautiful map to play with ...

Are there easily-accessible tools for making google-map-like interfaces for imaginary worlds? 'Coz there really should be. Within a week of the release of such a thing, I'm sure we'd be scrolling and zooming around Mordor.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:40 PM on May 27, 2010


Citizen, you are currently accessing information exceeding your security clearance. Please report to an autoconfessional at your earliest convenience or ask the closest designated Morale Officer to perform a code 17 on you. Thank you, have a nice daycycle.

That's got to be a problem for everyone here, being as the text is white.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:44 PM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was going to say something about the Star Frontiers' brightly lit, clean world. In retrospect I kind of miss it. Gritty SF settings with moral ambiguity are a dime a dozen, but sometimes you just want to jump off the ultratram and empty a needler clip at some unequivocal baddy, in a world where most people are good and social structures work.
posted by fleacircus at 3:45 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Star Frontiers was definitely channeling Buck Rogers where Traveller was channelling Star Wars-meets-Patrick O'Brian. Also it also channeled other Golden Age scifi like A. E. Van Vogt.

but sometimes you just want to jump off the ultratram and empty a needler clip at some unequivocal baddy

Somedays? Most days!
posted by GuyZero at 3:50 PM on May 27, 2010


Thank you for pointing these out. I'm not a Traveller gal myself, but I married into it. My husband will be delighted.
posted by immlass at 4:01 PM on May 27, 2010


One person in our short-lived Gamma World group played a mutant squirrel, about two feet tall, with amazing regenerative and healing powers.

He called them, of course, "The Paws That Refresh."

(yes, that's actually true. :) )
posted by Malor at 4:07 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now, if you want obscure, Lord of Creation.

As a huge PJ Farmer fan, I owned a copy of Lords of Creation. It was an insane amount of fun in a silly kind of way. I wonder if it is still buried in a box somewhere...
posted by Sparx at 5:05 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, if I can go on about Traveller for a while longer - unlike most RPGs it has a lot of skills that, while useful in reality, aren't very useful from a game perspective. Every character seems to end up with Admin-4 after having worked as a Naval Procurements officer for 4 terms. Or, slightly better, Streetwise-3 which I guess lets you score a little weed when you're in port. And while there are actual combat skills you're just as likely to end up with Forward Observer-3 as Rifle-3 which is great if the rest of the players are manning a squad of grav-bombers but less useful in a bar fight.

Ah, yes - a list of all the Traveller skills.

We have gems like:

- Carousing - I guess you're really awesome at ordering beer?
- Naval Architect - cool, but once again, of questionable use day-to-day
- Recruiting - lying to Imperial teenagers about college scholarships?
- Steward - exactly how good can you get at serving drinks to passengers?
- Field Artillery - most GMs hope that the campaign never gets to this point
- Fleet Tactics - my Archduke's fleet can beat up your Archduke's fleet

It wasn't a "gritty" feeling so mcuh as it was like having an adventure with a handful of actual ex-military people except they were the ones from logistics, the motor pool and food services.
posted by GuyZero at 6:06 PM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Aftermath! (1981) was the ultimate. Twilight 2000 (1984) not bad either. These came a little later though, Gamma World (1978) and Traveller (1977) are among the greats. Traveller is well defined, a scenario is one black book, playable in a reasonable amount of time. Even though the black books were minimalistic in design, the creativity was amazing. Sort of the Apple Computer of early RPG.
posted by stbalbach at 6:42 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, if I can go on about Traveller for a while longer - unlike most RPGs it has a lot of skills that, while useful in reality, aren't very useful from a game perspective.

Read the link Sebmojo posted. As one of the participants of that thread noted (after the group-directed creation of two characters):

Its *the* glory of Traveller I think. In other games you pick a background and start statting to suit. Doing things the other way around can lead to some incredibly cool results.

Such as the Pantless Marquis, Lawyer and Gentleman Enforcer. And Space-Eskimo-Shaman-Spies. Who stab seals.


Besides, any good GM would be able to craft a scenario in which a knowledge of, say, Imperial beauracracy would be vital.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:03 PM on May 27, 2010


The half-dozen times I ever played a role playing game was with Traveller, running a game for a few friends when we were like 15 or something back in like 1980.

It was fun, but we kind of collectively discovered that we just weren't cut out for it. Also, we discovered booze around the same time, and that, as they say, was that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:10 PM on May 27, 2010


FWIW, Traveller inspired a concept album by a Bay Area metal band called Slough Feg.

I am a space pirate, you know my name
Asteroid mining is a dangerous game
Imperial navy can't keep up my pace
Chasing a rock into Zhodani space

posted by WASP-12b at 9:16 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, old school and obscure: Albedo Anthropomorphics - hard sci-fi with anthropomorphic characters based on the comic of the same name.

Space battles were "Help the AI figure out optimal strategies, program the automated missle/drones, strap in and hope you don't get splattered". Things like shock, bloodloss, weight of individual bullets, etc. for simmy goodness. It had some interesting rules for training and rank that were also pretty cool.

A new school hard sci-fi game in the spirit of Traveller is Diaspora, using the FATE engine. It's non-crunchy, yet really covers most of what you'd want in hard sci-fi.
posted by yeloson at 9:32 PM on May 27, 2010


Fleacircus: My impression of the world of Star Frontiers was that while brightly lit and clean, it also had the undercurrent of paranoia that we see in BSG (the bad guys can look exactly like us!!!!) and corporate control (Bioshock, anyone?)

So I think the undercurrent has a lot of moral ambiguity. When you are exploring (which is the central feature of many of the mods) then it is very 19th-century English adventurers IN SPACE.

But when you are dealing with the Sathar or the corporations.... yeah, things can get really grey really quickly.

I also like the idea that the reason everything is shiny is that it is NEW. Zebulon's guide introduced the idea of the "plague worlds" from the first Sathar War that were basically genocide attempts. The idea that these were the HOME WORLDS of the races, and that all of the frontier worlds are essentially newly-established colonies really appeals to me (this is NOT canon, just my interpretation).
posted by imneuromancer at 5:20 AM on May 28, 2010


No doubt I was projecting my own thoughts onto something that didn't quite fit.

I think mostly I'm remembering the 'city' map which I felt suggested a utopian scifi world to me, like those clean, orderly industrial parks that you bomb the shit out of in Xevious. I recall that it wasn't clear who were the Sathar agents, but I thought it was clear that the Sathar were a wholly evil outside force, and that their agents were to be rooted out and destroyed. But I don't remember much about the corporations for example.

Of course trying to get players on board with a specific view of the campaign is just begging them to make their PCs top hat wearing dralasites who fart tiny fireballs.
posted by fleacircus at 6:22 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"No doubt I was projecting my own thoughts onto something that didn't quite fit."

Same here. My post is filtered through more than 20 years of thinking, re-thinking, and re-re-thinking (ad infinitum) the setting.
posted by imneuromancer at 6:33 AM on May 28, 2010


It was fun, but we kind of collectively discovered that we just weren't cut out for it. Also, we discovered booze around the same time, and that, as they say, was that.

I am on record as refusing to DM a game of Mage because no one had any pot. Because, seriously, have the sourcebook for Mage?
posted by Sparx at 7:02 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


have** the sourcebook for Mage?

** you read

It's true - years later and you are still


OOh, shiny beer!
posted by Sparx at 7:04 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You could spend all day long designing a Traveller starship, just as you could spend all day long designing cars for Car Wars, but you might never get to do anything with the ship. But you got to fight with the cars, which was much better.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:05 AM on May 28, 2010


But you got to fight

...A half an hour after everyone else turned 30 degrees.
posted by Sparx at 7:18 AM on May 28, 2010


.. and with an hours spent arguing about whether this chit was barely touching that chit.

But yeas, making cars in CW was fun stuff. From what I hear the game never really got the update it needed.
posted by fleacircus at 7:25 AM on May 28, 2010


/me strongly resists the urge to.... follow... the... derail...

Oh fuck it.

Mage is my favorite game ever. It's probably not the best game ever by any of a large number of metrics - basic playability being one of them - but fuck is it an awesome game. I was skeptical of New Mage when it appeared, but I have been thoroughly won over. This is a game system and game world about taking its base concepts to their logical conclusion and seeing where you end up. 'Coz those base concepts were there in Old Mage, and also its ancestor game, Ars Magica; New Mage brings in a rules set that really lets the game FLY.

What's Mage about? It's a game where the players have the ability to reshape reality with their will. You must learn the ten different arcana separately, each of which allows manipulation of some fundamental concept - Fate, Forces, Space, Mind, Life, etc. The main limitations are experience and the fact that reality tends to snap back against the more vulgar manipulations. The base book has a pile of suggested powers and spells, but these are the tip of the iceberg; the real beauty is in reshaping reality to fit whatever fucked up situation you've found yourself in. Like the time my troupe shut down a logging operation by 'planting' a rot-enhancing parasite in the lumber yard, convincing the company that it wasn't worth the effort to cut down new trees.

The system encourages the character to express themselves by the means of their magic; the personal becomes the physical, character and external world become intertwined. The players become a part of the storytelling because of the game mechanics.

And then you realize that the 'other side' can do all of this shit, too; the main conflicts in the game stem from disagreements about the nature of reality. It's a game about philosophy.

Ars Magica (from which Mage was pretty directly derived) encouraged 'troupe-style' roleplaying, in which there was no single gamemaster; each player developed a part of the world, and the group would take turns exploring different spaces as the gamemaster-role rotated around the different players. Ars was also notable for attaching to each wizard a retinue of minor characters, the warriors and minstrels and servants, who would go on adventures that the wizards couldn't be bothered with for one reason or another. (You can download Ars 4th edition for free at the above link!)

All of which is to say that the whole line has been pretty forward about pushing the boundaries of the roleplaying form. I think of RPG's as a form of collaborative storytelling, and Mage gets at that directly.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:30 AM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


What was that joke about how OWOD Mage was the RPG where psuedoscientists, ninjas, computer nerds, and human-sacrificing hippies fought against the evils of indoor lighting, vaccinations, and spaceflight?

My big problem with Mage was always that in a metasetting that worked best when each of the various gamelines inhabited its own private version of the larger setting, such that the God/Adam/Cain mythology of Vampire was valid and real within Vampire and the Gaia/Wyld/Weaver/Wyrm mythology was valid and real within Werewolf, Mage stood astride it all, smugly classifying other games' mythologies as known, classifiable entities.

I was a much bigger fan of Unknown Armies, where being into magic was generally the province of people who were completely incapable of existing as normal human beings, the product not of being part of a chosen elite but of either finding a path and walking it to the exclusion of sense or sanity or by becoming obsessed by something that most people would consider trivial or bizarre or wrong. It always seemed like a fundamentally more interesting game to me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:00 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unknown Armies - again, read the material, thought it was awesome, never played it.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on May 28, 2010


That said, there was flat-out not a single OWOD line that was worse than Mummy: the Resurrection. It was basically Ancient Egypt-themed superheroes in the World of Darkness and was completely bizarre. The best part was the third-level power that could level a city.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:20 AM on May 28, 2010


Ars Magica (from which Mage was pretty directly derived) encouraged 'troupe-style' roleplaying, in which there was no single gamemaster

I found it incredibly difficult to get players raised on D&D to embrace the troupe-mechanic. Possibly for the best, as games like Ars Magica are not built to withstand competitive builds and play. You can make yourself nigh-invincible if you want to. You need players who will understand that this would be no fun at all. Haven't found that group yet.

Will look into Mage. Sounds excellent. Thanks for the derail!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:40 AM on May 28, 2010


The best part was the third-level power that could level a city.

In most superhero RPGs, anyone with a sliver of imagination can do this. The challenge is to defeat the bad guy without levelling the city.
posted by GuyZero at 10:56 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Re: The White Wolf meta-story;

I think they've done a better job with this on the current incarnation of the games. It's pretty clear that WW has put a lot of thought into what worked and what went horribly, horribly wrong in the old world of darkness. And a big part of that is that the meta-story is much more game-dependent, and there isn't as much giant-crossover X-Men Vs. Spiderman bullshit going on. The games are built to stand on their own, though there are hooks for crossovers.

That said, it's been noted that - amongst the World of Darkness denizens - the mages are by nature the most curious about the world beyond themselves. The vampires are mostly interested in consolidating their power and sniping at each other, the werewolves look after their territory and defend it from insane nature spirits, and the changelings just try to work through the inevitable PTSD following an indeterminate amount of time spent as the slave of a faery. The mages are the only ones whose modus operandi involves going out and learning as much about the world as they can, and then try to understand and classify what they see.

Further, one of the themes running through new mage is that the big story really isn't set in stone. There's a common mythology that gets passed around, but there are so many exceptions and contradictions that it can't possibly be the whole story. The fluidity of reality extends to a fluidity of history. It's allegory. And in a storytelling game about characters who actively change the story they're a part of, that means something.

I'll take a look at Unknown Armies; thanks for the recommendation.

Mummy: the Resurrection

Ha! Yeah, 'Mummy: the Resurrection' was to 'Vampire: the Masquerade' as 'The Mummy or Ramses the Damned' was to the 'Vampire Lestat.'
posted by kaibutsu at 11:00 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Has anyone actually played Wild Talents? It looks sort of interesting but seems to involve a million dice for everything.
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on May 28, 2010


Traveller had some amazing material by GDW... the supplementary stuff by other companies... not so good.

(I'll suppose I'm now man enough to admit Shadowrun was my 'obsessed by it but never played it')
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:04 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wanted to play Ars Magica so badly, and came so close. Our gaming group had just come off some Fading Suns nonsense and we were trying to decide what to do next. I had everyone agreed to start an Ars (man, not a good name) campaign, and after about an hour of getting oriented and starting to think of characters and setting, one guy changed his mind. He didn't want to just fuck off and go somewhere else, he wanted to propose that the group play Legend of the Five Rings instead. He was enough of a squeaky wheel that he got what he wanted, and so my Ars Magica troupe vanished before my eyes.

(L5R had a couple okay points but having clans a la Vampire was dumb. Dumbest of all was the designated sneaky/lying/deceptive clan, sort of similar to House Slytherin. Why not just gang up and kick those guys out? But worse still was the mishmash of Japanese and Chinese stuff—why yes of course my samurai clan built the Great Wall—which I just couldn't abide.)
posted by fleacircus at 3:38 PM on May 28, 2010


That minimalist black box of Traveller heralded so much and for several years it kept me and my chums entertained every Wednesday night. The Chamax Plague was probably the highpoint: we were gripped - Aliens before its time and brilliantly GM'd by my oldest friend. Although we probably didn't realise it at the time, it was in its way an important celebration of friendship and imagination.

Then came real life: for a short time, Space Marine filled the gap, fast-food gaming for suddenly busy, dislocated lives. At some point we stopped playing even that.
posted by specialbrew at 5:21 PM on May 28, 2010


While my playing started with D&D, my GMing really took of with Traveller. My first few sessions were 1-on-1 with my friend D. By high school I was regularly running games for half a dozen or more players.

Metamorphosis Alpha, oh I still remember that day in 7th grade when someone swiped my copy. I was practically in tears. I even got the teacher to make an announcement asking if anyone had seen it. The happy news is I got an anonymous tip to go to the school gym, where I found it laying on the bleachers, slightly battered but still intact.

My collected-never-played was Space: 1889. I am surprised it hasn't made a resurgence in this steampunk obsessed era.
posted by fings at 6:02 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


My collected-never-played was Space: 1889. I am surprised it hasn't made a resurgence in this steampunk obsessed era.

That and Castle Falkenstein.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:55 PM on May 28, 2010


kaibutsu: Ha! Yeah, 'Mummy: the Resurrection' was to 'Vampire: the Masquerade' as 'The Mummy or Ramses the Damned' was to the 'Vampire Lestat.'

*sniff*. Next you'll tell me you didn't like the Mokole, either...
posted by charred husk at 9:07 PM on May 28, 2010


Yeah; I remember Space: 1889, and actually thought of it the first time I saw a webpage detailing someone's plans for a steam-powered corset. I have some strange half-formed memory of playing a board game version of it with my dad. (This kind of nerd-dom runs in the family, you see.)

(fearfulsymmetry: Shadowrun has some great ideas in it, but in practice the system suffers a bit from having too damned many rules, and being a bit too materialistic. The piles of extra rules for magic, the matrix, technomancers, and riggers get cumbersome. Throw in the near infinite number of possible customizations to every item in the game and it gets a bit much to keep track of. It's a quite compelling setting, though! My character for the upcoming game is a black ork who grew up in a Kansas refugee camp after his family was forcibly relocated out of the Confederate American States by the white-human supremacist government. Now he's an insurgent whose main hobbies are smuggling guns and blowing up gas stations.)

charred husk: I always wanted to pick up a copy of White Wolf's obscure second tier game, Changing Breeds: Rise of the Furries, but never quite got around to it.
ok, ok I admit it. I statted out a Bastet once, but don't think I ever actually played it.
Well, maybe I played it just once, but I didn't inhale.

posted by kaibutsu at 1:58 AM on May 29, 2010


too damned many rules

Sorry, there appears to be words there but they just don't any sense to me.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:27 AM on May 29, 2010


That said, it's been noted that - amongst the World of Darkness denizens - the mages are by nature the most curious about the world beyond themselves.

I'm not sure why this occurs to me at this particular moment reading your post, but David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me? Tremere. No question.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:52 PM on May 30, 2010


Oh this is a fun one...

Re-examining the old-school RPGs: Module S3, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

...in which a spaceship crashes in Greyhawk.
posted by Artw at 11:54 PM on June 2, 2010


Oh man, there was a running storyline about that in KoDT. Worst idea ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:28 AM on June 3, 2010


Wow, Artw; I was certain that your link would be this one, from the Something Awful WTF D&D!? series, but I was wrong...
posted by kaibutsu at 8:12 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ooh, oo! And then there's the actually topical WTF Traveller Art?!
posted by kaibutsu at 8:52 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, Something Awful, your cheap shots are bargain basement, but remain amusing.
posted by Artw at 10:30 AM on June 3, 2010


They strike a good balance between mockery, loving mockery, and goofballishness.

The thing about S3 that I cannot forgive is the map of the maintenance level where Gygax's initials are spelled out upside down.
posted by fleacircus at 2:51 PM on June 3, 2010


I’m intrigued by the references I’ve heard to the Machine Level in Castle Greyhawk … so far Googling only really gets this:

Imagine conveyor belts that force players
to travel in one direction or another, a cellophane machine that
wraps you up no matter how big or small you are and puts you in a
Vol. III No. 3
holding area for as long as it takes to rip yourself out, how about a die
press that shapes anything in its path into a bottle top (Boy, can that
hurt!), or a row of blades that cut in a pattern on the belt with a 25%
chance that any given blade will cut you? Try a slot machine that takes
only large sums of gold and with the flip of the handle takes a random
magic item from the party, and how about a lever that turns on something
way off in another part of the level (like a robot or level clean up
machine) that you can’t know about until you travel to that part of the
level? The treasures of this level could easily be more fun than the level:
imagine bottle tops made out of mithril on wine bottles; how about
guns and pistols that work; a set of chain mail made out of a super hard
and light alloy that acts like plus 5 armor and shows no magical traits;
how about a huge pile of gold dust in a large plastic bubble that isn’t
small enough to get out the door and can’t be cut by anything less than
a plus 5 sword?

posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rob Kuntz has busy the last few years publishing some old stuff. There's a sign he might publish the machine level. I'm not really collector enough to go after these, and the whole never-to-be-published-ness of all of Castle Greyhawk is disappointing.

There were other scifi in Blackmoor, like the classic the City of the Gods which I'm sure has been linked too before. Sorta scifi was Arneson's jab at Gygax, the Egg of Coot.

Man, I just now noticed that Google is indexing web forums in groups.google.com, with old usenet being a subset of that.
posted by fleacircus at 3:54 PM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


« Older VentriloChoir performs "Yesterday" on Hungarian TV...  |  The 'attention economy' is so ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments