Essential early 90s RPGs (non WOD)

Black Leaf

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A younger friend of mine is getting interested in "older" RPGs and is looking at the early nineties at the moment (yes, I know).

Looking for a list of games that encapsulate that era, especially stuff that came out of the post WOD boom.

Looking to draw up a shortlist of games for him to investigate. This is what I've got so far.

Ars Magica
Unknown Armies
Kult
In Nomine
Over the Edge


Anything people would remove or add?
 

finarvyn

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I suppose that it might come down to your definition of "essential" as I have had almost no experience with most of the five on your list and I've played a lot of RPGs. (I played both Ars Magica and In Nomine. Really liked In Nomine, not so thrilled with Ars Magica.)

I would have to check publication dates, but 7th Sea was a big one for me in the 1990's. I also played a lot of Castle Falkenstein and TORG.
 

AsenRG

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T4: Marc Miller's Traveller
Of course:tongue:!
 

Mankcam

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Ars Magica and Earthdawn were 1990s games, they were non-WoD.

There were also lots of editions of games that had originally started in the 1980s or earlier:

GURPS springs to mind, it seemed everywhere for a while.
Several editions of Mechwarrior.
Also Shadowrun.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay stuff was also on the shelves, but I think it may have still been attached to the first edition from the late 80s. There may have been a revised print version of WFRP 1E in the 1990s (but certainly wasn't the full WFRP 2E until the 2000s)

Call of Cthulhu 5E and 5.5E (although, arguebly almost the same game at the table as the 1980s versions)
Actually Chaosium did some 1990s versions of Elric/Stormbringer, and also published Nephilim around the same time.

D&D had new editions as well - more like revisions rather than distinct new editions, but they certainly were on the shelves.
These days we often see lots of references to 1980s TSR D&D 2E (B/X, BECMI), but the 1990s also saw several revised editions of TSR D&D 2E (Rules Cyclopedia, Black Box, Classic D&D) as well as AD&D 2E (actually released in 1989, but a reasonable shelf life throughout the 1990s). Although all of these D&D releases didn't do anywhere near as well as their earlier 1980s editions, and suffered greatly with the presence of WoD until the big WotC reboot in 2000 with D&D 3E.
 
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Teyrnon

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The nonWoD games I recall being popular or at least having notable mindshare in the early 90s are:

AD&D 2nd Edition
Amber Diceless Roleplaying
Ars Magica
Buck Rogers XXVc
Call of Cthulu
Castle Falkenstein
Champions/Hero
Cyberpunk 2020
Dangerous Journeys
Dark Conspiracy
DC Heroes 3rd Edition
Deam Park
Earthdawn
Elfquest
GURPS
Over the Edge
Paranoia
Pendragon
Prime Directive
Middle Earth Role Playing
Nephilim
Nightlife
Rifts
Rolemaster
Shadowrun
Shatterzone
SLA Industries
Tales from the Floating Vagabond
Theatrix
Time Lord (A Doctor Who RPG)
Timelords (BTRC)
Traveller: The New Era
Underground
The Whispering Vault
World of Synnibarr (If only as something to be mocked.)
 
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finarvyn

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Amber Diceless Roleplaying
This was released in the mid-1980's if my memory serves me correctly. I agree, however, that it's "golden age" was probably the 1990's. :sad:
 

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Bunch

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The nonWoD games I recall being popular or at least having notable mindshare in the early 90s are:

AD&D 2nd Edition
Amber Diceless Roleplaying
Ars Magica
Buck Rogers XXVc
Call of Cthulu
Castle Falkenstein
Champions/Hero
Cyberpunk 2020
Dangerous Journeys
Dark Conspiracy
DC Heroes 3rd Edition
Deam Park
Earthdawn
Elfquest
GURPS
Over the Edge
Paranoia
Pendragon
Prime Directive
Middle Earth Role Playing
Nephilim
Nightlife
Rifts
Rolemaster
Shadowrun
Shatterzone
SLA Industries
Tales from the Floating Vagabond
Theatrix
Time Lord (A Doctor Who RPG)
Timelords (BTRC)
Traveller: The New Era
Underground
The Whispering Vault
World of Synnibarr (If only as something to be mocked.)
I didn't game from 1990-2000 and this is a list of pretty much everything I missed out on except the following 80's games

Rolemaster/MERP
Champions
Shadowrun
Call of Cthulhu
Paranoia
 

Trippy

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Actually, in the early 1990’s, specifically in the third edition, Ars Magica was part of the WoD. It was the historical basis of the WoD, but later editions removed the connections. Effectively, it was replaced in the WoD canon by Vampire:The Dark Ages.

Other early 90s games of note include Nephilim, SLA Industries and The Whispering Vault, all of which underline the popularity of dark role playing at the time. While Cyberpunk and Shadowrun first came out in the late 1980s, they also found their major foothold in the 1990s too. If you want something that represented something of a sea change or a ‘breath of fresh air’ as it was described, then try Castle Falkenstein.
 

Trippy

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This was released in the mid-1980's if my memory serves me correctly. I agree, however, that it's "golden age" was probably the 1990's. :sad:
It was around from the mid 80s in unpublished form, but only became published in 1991.
 

silva

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The 90s for me is the fluff-decade. Any game heavy on flavor, aesthetics, overly detailed settings, etc. with rules that feel slightly schizo in trying to both emulate that fluff and also keep faithful to the 80s physics-simulation madness, is a good representative of the era in my book.
 

EmperorNorton

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Hero System technically had its first incarnation in 1990 (As a spinoff of Champions).
 

Stevethulhu

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Also it kind of irks me that you feel like you have to put a qualifier on "Older" games when talking about games like 25-30 years ago. Come on. At what point can we stop acting like only the 70s and early 80s RPGs are old?
The problem is generational. It's like Douglas Adams said,

I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
While he was talking about technology, I think the same holds true for gaming. Just with 15-25 as the age range.
 

Baulderstone

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A younger friend of mine is getting interested in "older" RPGs and is looking at the early nineties at the moment (yes, I know).

Looking for a list of games that encapsulate that era, especially stuff that came out of the post WOD boom.

Looking to draw up a shortlist of games for him to investigate. This is what I've got so far.

Ars Magica
Unknown Armies
Kult
In Nomine
Over the Edge


Anything people would remove or add?
That's actually a great list there. However, Unknown Armies is 1998, so while it is an essential '90s game, it isn't early. It does fit your definition of games that came out of the WoD boom though. In some ways, it was a conscious reaction to WoD, making actual humans and their concerns central to the game, and normal humans were entirely balanced in play against those with magic powers.

To add some specificity, I'd point them to the second edition of Ars Magica. It technically came out in 1989, but the majority of the game line came out in the '90s. It's the last edition of the game that that the game creators, Mark Rein-Hagan and Jonathan Tweet , worked on. I don't think any subsequent edition quite got the flavor right after that. There is a certain light playfulness that is much scarcer in the game after that.
 

Baulderstone

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Oh forgot to add, Call of Cthulhu was putting out a lot of great stuff in the early '90s, like the Lovecraft Country books. It's also when the first issues of The Unspeakable Oath came out, which later gave us the supplements from Pagan Publishing and Arc Dream. You can read an annotated version of the first issue here. I believe all three of the first issues are on that blog, but it's not easy to navigate, so you can find the other on your own.
 

Trippy

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Yes - really, by rights, Unknown Armies is a late 1990s release. It came out after Over The Edge and Feng Shui too. In the case of the latter, I think this was the game that started to shift the early 1990s trends from dark and moody into something more upbeat.
 

Trippy

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Oh yes, and we shouldn’t forget Everway, which I think only came out in 1995, but was advertised for years.
 

silva

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Oh yes, and we shouldn’t forget Everway, which I think only came out in 1995, but was advertised for years.
Nope, Everway is from the 2000s.

...someone obviously carried it back with a time machine. :grin:
 

Baulderstone

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We had copies in the store I worked in back in 1995, so it must have been a well-stocked time machine.
 

Baulderstone

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If we are allowing late '90s games, then Deadlands and Feng Shui definitely belong on the list. During the time after TSR died and before WotC brought them back, Deadlands was one of my best selling games.

Fading Suns is another essential from the late '90s. It's also made by former White Wolfers and has some clear influence from White Wolf games, which means it fits one of the criteria.

Nephilim is worth a mention as an artifact of the '90s. It was Chaosium's attempt to make something on WoD mold. It lacked a clear focus though, and it never took off.
 

TristramEvans

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The French version of Nephilim was a thing of unparalleled beauty, but the crappy English one was pretty ugly. I enjoyed that they tried to do an "accurate" Magic system that was still playable though, even got the book endorsed by a real life nutter (I mean "ceremonial magician", snicker)
 

Black Leaf

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Quite honestly late nineties is likely fine.

From his perspective they're all historical (he's 24). From mine memory of that time is a bit hazy anyway.
 

Black Leaf

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Also it kind of irks me that you feel like you have to put a qualifier on "Older" games when talking about games like 25-30 years ago. Come on. At what point can we stop acting like only the 70s and early 80s RPGs are old?
I think the general rule of thumb is:

Games that people played as teenagers - old
Games people played as university students -classic
Games people play now - modern

:p

(More seriously that was a quote, it wasn't meant to be a qualifier. Aside from the fact he's less interested in pre nineties games. Mostly because he collects WoD books so is interested in stuff that's broadly from that period).
 

Baulderstone

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The French version of Nephilim was a thing of unparalleled beauty, but the crappy English one was pretty ugly. I enjoyed that they tried to do an "accurate" Magic system that was still playable though, even got the book endorsed by a real life nutter (I mean "ceremonial magician", snicker)
Kenneth Hite got brought in to work on a supplement for that early in his career. If someone put a Kickstarter together to have Hite do a second edition, they would get my money.
 

Black Leaf

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Actually, in the early 1990’s, specifically in the third edition, Ars Magica was part of the WoD. It was the historical basis of the WoD, but later editions removed the connections. Effectively, it was replaced in the WoD canon by Vampire:The Dark Ages.

Other early 90s games of note include Nephilim, SLA Industries and The Whispering Vault, all of which underline the popularity of dark role playing at the time. While Cyberpunk and Shadowrun first came out in the late 1980s, they also found their major foothold in the 1990s too. If you want something that represented something of a sea change or a ‘breath of fresh air’ as it was described, then try Castle Falkenstein.
Yeah, that's an interesting point and illustrates how hazy memory can be. I'd always assumed Cyberpunk came out in the early nineties because that's when I was playing it.
 

Baulderstone

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Yeah, that's an interesting point and illustrates how hazy memory can be. I'd always assumed Cyberpunk came out in the early nineties because that's when I was playing it.
As a fan of the genre, I was trying to run Cyberpunk back in the late '80s. It was hard as most people I played with just didn't have a handle on it yet. Based on my early experiences, I was actually surprised it eventually became an RPG staple.
 

3rik

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During the early nineties we mainly played several GURPS(ified) games: ShadowGURPS (= a superb GURPSified amalgam of Cyberpunk, Shadowrun and GURPS Cyberpunk), GURPS Star Wars, GURPS Fantasy, GURPS Pirates. Then later on quite a bit of WoD but not much else, besides some short-lived games of Over the Edge, Kult, Noir, Warhammer FRPG 2E and Aeon Trinty.

I only started frequenting game stores after 1994 and remember stuff like Deadlands and Blue Planet being available.
 

Trippy

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Actually, again, GURPS was a 1980s game in terms of it's release but it's another example of a game that took a major foothold in the 1990s. Basically, it barely registered on my radar, in the 1980s but it was quite preeminant in most gamestores I frequented in the 1990s because of all it's supplements.
 

SavAce

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For these kinds of questions, Wikipedia is actually a not bad place to look. This list isn't perfect (like, it says Jovian Chronicles is '93, even though it was only a couple Mekton II adventures before it was published as an RPG in '97), but it's a good start if you're asking yourself "When is that RPG from?": Timeline of Tabletop Role-Playing Games

Looking at that list, I might say... Rifts, Amber, Over the Edge, Torg, Kult?
 

Trippy

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It is possibly worth noting that the impact of WoD games was as big on their own releases too. All the follow on games from Vampire onwards, the MET stuff, and truckloads of supplements all stem from the initial success of their early years too. Difficult to consider the zeitgeist of 1990s gaming without the WoD, really.
 
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