Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Place of Dead Games: Play on Target Podcast Ep. 18

This week the Play on Target podcast takes a look at games we no longer play- why and what took their place. We stop playing games for many reasons, not all of them a judgment on the games themselves. At least in my case there’s been a shift over time as I come to understand what I like about systems. That learning process lands people and groups in different places- from those who want a throwback to the games of their earlier days, to those looking for a game that puts story first, to gear-heads who want to play with the inner workings of the mechanics. Once again we hit on questions of system (which we address directly next episode). I think system has an impact and shapes experience. Learning to recognize and assess how those factors mix with the groups I play with pushed some game migrations. I think you can get useful info by looking back at fallen games and figuring out why they dropped dead for your group.

In preparation for this episode dropping I put together three posts looking at  major systems I’d “buried.”
Of course all of the systems are alive and kicking, with companies still producing material for them. You can't define a game as dead even if the company’s dead- people can still play it. I like to imagine groups out there right now running SPI’s Universe, Avalon Hill’s Powers & Perils, or even Mongoose Publishing’s Starship Troopers. I mentioned those games because I played them and loved them. In each case I played or ran multiple campaigns using them, logging in at least a couple hundred hours of table play for each (and likely more). But my tastes have shifted over the years- the crunch, detail, granularity, and numbers I once loved aren’t as appealing  anymore.


In a few cases I’ve found other systems to handle the niches those three filled. I like Mutants & Masterminds 2e for supers. It isn’t perfect, but it does what I want a supers game to do. If I want talented normal I’ll use my homebrew or FATE or even tossed together Unisystem. If I want fantasy, I’ll fall back to a homebrew, FATE, or even a system specifically tuned to a particular setting. Of the three I mentioned Rolemaster would likely be the only one I’d want to go back to. I could see playing that again with just the most basic books for out goofy action fantasy.

One interesting exercise would be to trace the oral history of games and gaming within a region. For example, we had a local game store open in 1976 selling minis, D&D and wargames. You had a couple of generations of gamers who flocked there originally: grognards and new punks. My sister and her peers constituted the next generation after that. Then came my friend Art’s group, then came my generation. Eventually the number of gamers grew and diversified so you couldn’t even read things that way. But you could see significant shifts both in terms of what games people played and how they played them. When I worked and managed the store in the late 1980’s and mid 1990’s I could read pretty well the divisions- the White Wolf groups, the Battletech fiends, the Rifts Savants, and the still largest faction, the TSR aficionados.

I love hearing about the different routes people took to come into the hobby and how their group evolved. I know several people who had Traveller as the most important developmental game. That never did anything in any of the game groups I played with. The closest we came to hard sci-fi was Cyberpunk and FASA’s Star Trek. For many groups, D&D began their career and served as the continuing lynch-pin  but not for any of the people I play with. My group has gamed together in one form or another since the late 1980’s and tried many different systems. But Vampire and such only ever served as a slight detour, Call of Cthulhu rarely had sustained power, and stuff like TORG, Warhammer Fantasy, and Deadlands withered on the vine.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at

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