Geek Lifetime Achievement in Roleplaying
History of the Award
The Geek Lifetime Achievement in Role-Playing (GLAIR, formerly GLARP) award began in 2010 with 13 nominees vying for one of three spots in the initial group of entries. The results were determined with a simple poll asking voters to pick a first, second, and third choice from among the games offered.
The poll was open for the month of October 2010 and at the end, 112 role-playing enthusiasts (rpggeeks) had selected three games to enter this hall of fame. The remaining ten games will join new candidates for the First Annual GLAIR in October 2011.
Like Dungeons and Dragons, Call of Cthulhu (1st Edition) has some roots in an older game, in this case RuneQuest (1st & 2nd Editions) which provides the Basic Role-Playing (BRP) which is the core of the mechanics. Call of Cthulhu (1st Edition) was published in 1981. There have been a total of six editions of Call of Cthulhu and the source material and changes in mechanics from versions 2 through 6 are so similar that RPG Geek considers them the same system.
Mechanically, the various editions are fairly similar. Characters are occult investigators (not always deliberately) who will confront the horrors of a supernatural world. Unlike many games, players are confronted by two ways their character can leave the game. They can die in a traditional manner by being killed by the horrors they encounter, or they can become insane by being exposed to those horrors or gaining knowledge of magic. In most games, the characters eventually become rich and powerful, but in Call of Cthulhu that future is promised to no one and many characters either die a grisly death or wind up in a mental institution.
Call of Cthulhu uses a skill-based system based on percentile dice. Characters have skills and abilities which they provide their percentage chance of success at various actions. As they are successful in adventuring they are able to improve their skills. There are no classes and no levels.
Call of Cthulhu is the first successful game to be based on investigating mysteries. Unlike prior games, which typically involved characters having encounters as they moved from one area to the next, Call of Cthulhu presented clues which gradually led players from one part of the mystery to the next. It was a fundamental change in the design of adventures.
Call of Cthulhu has provided many source and settings books allowing players to be occult investigators in any era from the Roman Empire to the future. The core setting is in the 1920's but other popular eras include the 1890s (Cthulhu by Gaslight) and modern times (Cthulhu Now). The six editions were published in 1981 (1st), 1983 (2nd), 1986 (3rd), 1989 (4th), 1992 (5th), and 2005 (6th).
Dungeons and Dragons is the oldest of the three games inducted in 2010, with roots in the 1971 game Chainmail. The release of Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) in 1974 started the path of what is still the most commercially successful role-playing game in history. It has spawned multiple editions, two feature films, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a raft of best-selling novels. It has also inspired numerous imitators, the basics of many online role-playing games, and more than three decades of play.
Every member of the D&D family shares some basic characteristics. The characters have six ability scores (usually) and those scores define basic aptitudes for various activities. Each character is a member of a class and/or race which helps to define its abilities. As characters progress, they earn experience points which in turn lead to new "levels". Each level grants new powers and abilities. These basic mechanics haven't changed much from the first release in 1974.
Beginning in 1977, there were actually two divergent paths for the game. Basic Dungeons & Dragons was the simpler set of rules and was released typically in boxed sets with everything needed for characters in a range of levels. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) was considered more complex and was actually released over the course of 1977-1979. Several versions of Dungeons and Dragons were released over the ensuing years with new versions in 1981, 1983 and the fifth and final version in 1991. Meanwhile Advanced Dungeons and Dragons did not have a second edition until 1989. The next edition was Dungeons & Dragons (3rd Edition) which was released in 2000 and marked the return to a single game under the Dungeons & Dragons brand. Three years later, Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition) joined the family.
2008 saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition). This latest version marked a major departure from the previous releases and sought to integrate lessons learned from the world of online gaming. The game retained its class and level structure, but the classes and powers were changed greatly with an eye towards making every character useful in combat all the time. The new version also emphasized the use of miniatures more strongly than any of the previous editions. In 2010, D&D Essentials was released creating a new entry point for the 4th edition of the game.
Traveller was, according to the creator Marc W. Miller, an attempt to do Dungeons and Dragons in space. There are many hallmarks of that in the rules, not the least of which is a lack of a detailed setting in the core books. Traveller has had many editions, most of which used the same basic rules of the 1977 edition. That edition, now called "Classic Traveller" by some, is still in print today.
Traveller uses a lifepath system for character generation. Players generate a character by choosing a profession (initially limited to Army, Navy, Marine, Scout, Science, and Other) and then rolling for the results of their previous career. Once a character has been generated, they will have a number of skills and possibly some equipment. Characters can die during character generation. Within the context of the game, task resolution is typically 2d6 + Skill to beat a target of 8 or higher. Later versions changed the rules on resolution to accommodated various levels of difficulty.
Traveller is very different from other games of the time because there is no provision for characters to gain levels or make other improvements to their skills. Once the character is generated, there are no changes in their skills or abilities. Traveller can also be described as the progenitor of the "splat" book. Although the initial rules were very similar for all lifepaths, there were soon advanced rules for generating characters from various lifepaths. The first of these was Mercenary which covered Army and Marine characters; it was released in 1978. Books for other professions soon followed.
White Wolf Games Studio was formed from a combination of the Wieck brothers' White Wolf Magazine and Mark Rein•Hagen's Lion Rampart RPG publisher (known for Ars Magica). Their first new RPG was Vampire: The Masquerade released in 1991. This combined the dice pool system of Shadowrun (due to the inclusion of designer Tom Dowd) with a dark modern-day gothic-punk setting (the World of Darkness) in which vampires manipulate mortal civilisation behind the scenes. Character classes were implemented as vampire clans, each with a different feel, and the range of supernatural powers gave the game a superheroic slant.
The RPG was phenomenally successful and revitalised the RPG industry in the 1990s. On the back of its success, further linked lines were added to the World of Darkness. Each year a new full RPG was developed: Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, Changeling: The Dreaming; each of these played very differently and could be used independently, or mixed together crossing over genres. Additional lines introduced historical settings for the European dark ages, the American wild west, the European renaissance, the First World War, and Victorian age Europe. Further expansions to the range of RPGs included Kindred of the East, Hunter: The Reckoning, Mummy: The Resurrection, Demon: The Fallen, Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom, and Orpheus (Orpheus was particularly notable for being designed as a fixed number of books). Various live action RPGs were created too, opening up the LARP scene to a new type of game that (being set in the modern day) had less stringent costume requirements than the traditional fantasy games. Card games, board games, merchandising, and even a mainstream television series were produced.
With the remarkable success of its core games, White Wolf grew rapidly producing hundreds of rulebooks and supplements. Ultimately not all lines were big sellers, and the publisher found they'd spread themselves too thin. Additionally the setting's metaplot had grown vast with the many interconnected games, and had evolved in complex ways over time. So when the company had a change in management, the World of Darkness was brought to an end in a global Armageddon (playable as a range of scenarios) bringing various in-game prophecies to fruition. White Wolf then rebooted with a cleaner, more streamlined New World of Darkness, inspired by but completely separate from the Classic WoD.
The tale does not end there. In 2011 White Wolf announced the publication of a 20th Anniversary edition of Vampire. The fanbase responded so enthusiastically that further new releases are now planned and the Classic World of Darkness is again enjoying new publications. The back catalogue of titles is also available in both PDF and print-on-demand formats from Steve Wieck's DrivethruRPG. The Classic World of Darkness contains role-playing opportunities to meet the tastes of nearly every gamer. That diversity has earned it a large fanbase that has never stopped playing its games and now continues to support its ongoing publication.
Paranoia is the most successful, complete, perfect and playable role playing game of all time, bar none - The Computer says so, and you wouldn't question the wisdom of The Computer, right?
Paranoia is set in an imaginary future with a strong whiff of dystopia, where a society sealed off from the world accepts the protection and control of a well-meaning but obviously insane artificial intelligence. Characters eke out lives in service to The Computer, protecting Alpha Complex from innumerable threats, ranging from Communists and secret societies, to mutants and self-serving traitors. While the post-apocalyptic setting of subversion and mistrust might, on face value, seem grim, the game was, from the outset, one of a darkly humorous persuasion. In a setting where death comes to all those seeking to undermine the common good with mutation, treachery or conspiracy, all characters start out with a mutation, membership in a secret society, and affiliation with causes and service groups intent on their own selfish objectives.
Paranoia was published by West End Games in 1984. Originally designed by Dan Gelber, and developed by Greg Costikyan and Eric Goldberg, the first edition employed various permutations for using a ten-sided dice, mechanics dropped in later editions in favour of a twenty-sided dice. Following three editions from WEG, the game went out of print after the company went defunct. When the creators got the rights back for the game, Paranoia returned in 2004, under licence by Mongoose Publishing. Allen Varney led the design of the new edition, briefly entitled Paranoia XP, and recruited a team of relatively unknown writers - collectively known as the Traitor Recycling Studio - to put together the supporting line of new material that followed. In 2009, Mongoose Publishing released a 25th Anniversary Edition that used most of the core materials from the previous, but broke the setting down into three separate books. Each book provided a self-contained and playable game allowing players to run characters as Troubleshooters, Internal Security or High Programmers, mapping the lowliest, middle and highest levels of security clearance in Alpha Complex society.
Paranoia is one of a very small number of RPGs that support a humorous game and actively encourages a mixture of cooperation and deception amongst players and their characters. Also, citing Allen Varney, "PARANOIA was among the first major RPGs to emphasize atmosphere and setting over rules, and to design rules that furthered a specific style of play. Not enough sources recognize its key influence on later designs."
Character death happens with frightening regularity, but a cloning mechanic means that they come back for more. Nevertheless, early editions of the game made campaign and character development largely unnecessary, becoming strongly associated with a one-shot approach to game play and adventures. While later editions have looked to provide more potential for characters with a future, player fondness and familiarity with Paranoia revolves around imagery of vaporization, smoking boots and a Vehicular Accidents and Falling From Great Heights chart that included a random effects column for falling from orbit.
GURPS, short for Generic Universal RolePlaying System started with a simple core concept: you could use the same set of rules to play in any genre or setting. Although there many generic systems today, this was a relatively new idea in 1986, when it was first published. Although it may not have been the first generic RPG system, it quickly rose to becoming one of the most popular and well-known.
Fueling the ability of GURPS to adapt to any setting are hundreds of supplements, everything from Age of Napoleon to the recently released Zombies. If there’s a genre that you always wanted to role-play, chances are that there’s a GURPS supplement that covers it. Many of the setting books not only provided GURPS rules, but plenty of background and flavor, making them a welcome resource for both fans of the game and people who were just interested in the genre.
Mechanically, GURPS borrows a lot from an earlier Steve Jackson game: The Fantasy Trip, created as a response to D&D to eliminate polyhedral dice and introduce a more tactical and cohesive combat system. GURPS uses four attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Health, with skills based on those attributes. Most skill checks require you to simply roll 3d6 and roll lower than your skill level.
Another central concept in GURPS is the concept of advantages and disadvantages that define your character. These cover a wide range of possible abilities, from mundane traits such as starting wealth or social status to physical traits such as ambidexterity or having one arm. There are even mental and social advantages and disadvantages such as empathy or arachnophobia. Though GURPS has a reputation as a math-oriented crunchy system, the fact that a character’s personality had actual game mechanics associated with it allowed GURPS players to create rich and interesting characters.
Everything in GURPS character creation stems from a point-buy method, influenced by Champions. Attributes, skills and advantages all cost points, and you can choose to focus on certain aspects of your character while ignoring others. Taking disadvantages will give you more points to spend on other abilities.
GURPS 1s Edition was published in 1986 and included separate books for Characters and Adventures. This was revised and expanded in 1987 with 2nd Edition. Then, with more revision and expansion, GURPS was combined into one volume in 1988 with 3rd Edition. This remained the standard for many years until the game underwent a major revision in 2004 at the hands of Sean Punch. But even the 4th Edition rules kept a lot of the same mechanical core, and the game will still be familiar to those who have played previous editions. And this is a testament to the strength of both the concept and mechanics of GURPS: that the spirit of the game can last for decades.
Pendragon is the baby of Greg Stafford, arguably one of the most important figures in the history of table top roleplaying. In the game, players take on the roles of knights and they take them on adventures in the psuedo-historical world of King Arthur. The game has a number of features which, whilst perhaps not unique any more, were certainly groundbreaking in their day and are still somewhat unusual.
Broadly speaking, every game session should equate to roughly a year of game time. This means that your characters will age and, no matter how muchin-like your knight may be, eventually he's going to die, from old age if nothing else. Therefore an important part of the game is building up your dynasty – getting married, looking after your home, having children and protecting them until they're old enough to perhaps become your new character once your original one retires or dies.
At the end of every session there's a downtime segment called the Winter Phase. This is handled almost more like a board game (or at least a resource management game) rather than a roleplaying game. You get to see how your manor (your home) has performed, build improvements to it, deal with random events, look after your peasants, see if your wife has had any children and check if your existing family has survived the year.
The passage of time too is handled unusually in Pendragon. Historically the story of King Arthur has been portrayed in many different ways – sometimes in the more historically 'accurate' form such as Bernard Cornwall's Winter King books or Clive Owen's King Arthur film; whilst other protrayals will set the story in a much later time period, such as the film Excalibur which portrays a very late medieval period rather than the early Dark Ages period that the story is actually set in. This broad range of styles is reflected in the game. At the story's beginning, technology is very much proper Dark Ages stuff – the best armour you can find is chainmail, most castles are made of wood and there's no horse armour to be seen. Every ten years or so technology jumps forward until by the end of the game you're into very late medieval technology, with full plate armour, enormous stone castles, trebuchets and tournaments galore.
Perhaps the crowning glory of Pendragon is the multi-generation spanning campaign that has been published for it – The Great Pendragon Campaign. This is a work of art by Greg Stafford and there are few campaigns that can match its sheer breadth.
Pendragon is a venerable roleplaying game and over the course of its history it has gone through the hands of several different publishers. It currently resides with Nocturnal who offer the game as a print on demand product. If you've never experienced it, it's well worth checking out.
Fudge started as an online collaborative project to create a rules-light RPG that would be free to download and print. The project was begun in late 1992 by Steffan O'Sullivan, and for the first year and a half had many contributors. O'Sullivan was in charge of selecting contributions and editing them, but was not the sole author. In order to be certain that it would always remain free, O'Sullivan copyrighted the system in his name.
The essence of Fudge is a bell curve distribution system centered on a zero result (that is, a character will usually perform at or very near their trait level), word-based trait levels, extreme flexibility, and an insistence that each individual GM is responsible for customizing the game to their tastes. It is a skill-based system, though that has been customized away by some developers. It is meant for any genre: fantasy, science fiction, modern, animal, historical, etc.
In 1994, Ann Dupuis approached O'Sullivan to see if she could publish Fudge. This was agreed to, provided at least one version always remained available free of charge on the internet. Dupuis agreed, and the Wild Mule version of Fudge was published as a physical product in 1994.
Some time after this release, extensive playtesting by a wider audience revealed a flaw in the basic 1d6-1d6 dice mechanic, so Fudge Dice were invented, produced, and sold. O'Sullivan then rewrote, enlarged, and modernized the entire Fudge book, this time with minimal collaboration. The result is the 1995 Grey Ghost Games published edition of Fudge, and the edition found to this day for free on the web.
Fudge was a pioneer game of free access and allowed other companies to publish Fudge variants and settings, well before the OGL was written. The original Fudge license was not written by a lawyer, and required two copies of physical product (if any) to be sent to O'Sullivan. This was unpopular with many who wished to publish their own Fudge rules. Since Steffan O'Sullivan made no money from Fudge and couldn't afford to hire a lawyer to write a better license, he "sold" the Fudge copyright for $1 to Grey Ghost Games in 2000 so they could change the license. Ann Dupuis, owner of Grey Ghost, eventually chose the OGL (which was out by this time), and Fudge-based games such as Fate (which originally stood for Fudge Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment) soon appeared using this license.
In 2005 Grey Ghost published the "10th Anniversary Edition" of Fudge. This included the 1995 text (edited and somewhat altered by Dupuis) and a large amount of additional material by many other authors.
Many games have been written using the Fudge System, which you can see by clicking the link. And more are coming - the system still has a respectable fan base which should continue to grow with the release of The Princess Bride Roleplaying Game.
You can read more about the history and design philosophy of Fudge in the Fudge Designer's Notes.
Originally created by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein*Hagen. First published in 1987 Ars Magica has gone through a series of changes in mechanics (it is currently in its 5th edition) and ownership (Lions' Rampart, White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast and currently (2018) Atlas Games).
Set in a Mythic Europe that's close enough to historical Europe (approx AD1220) that your history textbooks will double as excellent sourcebooks. But they won't need to, because there are a number of excellent, very well researched sourcebooks. Indeed, there have been over 40 books published for the 5th edition alone.
Ars Magica was originally written in part as a reaction to D&D but soon grew into its own thing, with a loyal group of dedicated followers.
Ars Magica features several types of characters (Magi, Companions and Grogs), which are not created equal. Magi are the focus of the game. Members of the Order of Hermes use Hermetic Magic. Rules-wise, this is a Verb-Noun magic system, with a wide variety of applications. It is based on 5 Techniques (describing what is done) and 10 Forms (describing what is affected).
For each of the 50 combinations, there are guidelines for what can be done, spell levels are then derived from the guideline and modified for parameters like range and duration.
Hermetic Magic allows for Spontaneous Magic (spells made up on the spot), Formulaic Magic (known, studied, repeatable spells), Ritual Magic (more complicated version of Formulaic spells), and several types of enchanted devices. Given the extensive collection of guidelines, several ways in which magic can be used and the wide range of choices of parameters, the resulting magic system is both strong and flexible, robust and extendable, while already encompassing a huge spread of possible effects.
Interlinking with the magic system, are the mechanics for magical laboratory work and character advancement. These take place in times measured by in-game seasons. This timing encourages stories that develop over years of narrative time.
Ars Magica also features a central meta-character, namely the Covenant. This word is a bit overloaded in context, but it is the community in which the magi live and share resources.