Each weekday I briefly look at one of sixty ttrpg core books released in 2012. It won’t hit everything released, but it will cover a good spread-- and maybe it’ll offer some perspective on current games and gaming. I thought it would be worth copying that over each week to here, just because it’s some interesting rpg content I spend some time putting together. In the thread you’ll find the first fifteen-- feel free to add comments/questions in the thread.
In this you play occupier military in Roman Britain. It focuses on playing out day-to-day military life and missions. It’s not a particularly crunchy system, though it does have a big skill list. There’s a good deal of historical detail to it.
The angle which sold me on the game is the concept that this could be a horror game. Not like Cthulhu Invictus, but rather a story of survival and personal horror. A group of Roman soldiers on the borderlands of the unknown with the wild and mysterious locals threatening from the shadows—do they have monsters? magic? dark gods? Your PCs lack knowledge but have an abundance of superstition. That’s a cool idea worth exploring. About 15 pages of 152 cover this. I would have loved to see more—and maybe another game could be tweaked to do this.
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
The second Game of Thrones rpg (after one from problematic publisher Guardians of Order—look it up & don’t buy BESM). While GOO did a d20 adaptation this used a new d6 “Chronicle System” which Green Ronin hasn’t repurposed for anything else. This version was the new Core Rulebook for the system, updating the ’09 version—likely to take advantage of the TV series. While Green Ronin supported the line with some nice sourcebooks, the last release would be in 2016 a couple of years before the show’s finale.
Adventurer, Conqueror. King
ACKS looks like OSR, maybe a retro-clone. It definitely takes inspiration from the Rules Cyclopedia and to a lesser extent AD&D. There’s a focus on higher level campaign play as an end goal- stronghold building, etc.
BUT The problem is this is Alexander Macris’ baby, who was the CEO for a company started by Milo Yiannopoulos and also was working on a Gor RPG. Feel free to do the Google search on all of that. I don’t want to give more oxygen to this product.
An improv-focused story game from Matthijs Holter, who would much of this system to power Itras By. This was the third edition, released by Bully Pulpit in a fancy version, though the rules themselves can be downloaded for free.
It helped set the template for a certain kind of GMless story game with players collaboratively building as well as taking on the responsibility for elements of the setting. You can see its influence in Downfall, For the Queen, and The Fall of Magic.
It uses two kinds of cards. Resolution cards have improv responses (“yes, and…” “no, but…”) which can be used to determine outcomes. Fate cards offer prompts which suggest changes in the fiction. It remains a solid and interesting story frame game.
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
A high pulp fantasy game with a distinct setting. It’s not exactly a retroclone, but definitely borrows elements from early D&D. I assumed it was OSR, but I notice an avoidance of those terms in reviews and the game’s own description. It’s clearly a throwback which embraces the wildness of Howard & Carter. It’s had a lot of support, with a second edition in 2017 and a third edition recently-- now just called Hyperborea. Striking look, tons of material, lots of classes.
During the 2000’s and into the 2010s we had a large number of new fantasy rpgs– some OSR, some more trad, some with setting, and others generic. It might have been a reaction to the 3.0/3.5 collapse or even to the coming of D&D 4e, but we had a lot of them.
This one used the d00Lite system, a percentile system. It would go on to power a lot of rpgs from DwD Studios including Covert Ops, Art of Wuxia, Sigil & Shadow, and more. BareBones got some modest support– characters, adventures, a setting sourcebook.
A huge (460 page) modern multiversal rpg. And I’d barely heard of it despite it being nominated for three ENnie Awards in 2013. It’s “a modern-day post-apocalyptic science fiction conspiracy horror roleplaying game of parallel worlds.” You have twelve Earths you can move through, each of them dying.
Not much else I heard about this beyond it being a d12-based system which is always unusual. I’m just surprised this feel so hard off the radar– despite strong reviews and acclaim.
Champions Complete HERO System 6
Another game with lots of nominations for ENnies in 2013. Starting with the 4th edition of Champions, Hero Games usually created both a generic core Hero System book and a stand-alone Champions book, for those interested in just that portion of the game. That varied– and in 2010 they released Champions 6 which required the Hero System book to use.
This is a smaller, tighter but complete book for playing Champions. It offers a streamlined presentation, but allows folks to run just from this one core book.
Cheat Your Own Adventure
This series focuses on games with a physical release, but I have to break that rule. Cheat Your Own Adventure or CYOA was one of the early hot games for Gauntlet Hangouts Online play, with pieces about it featured in Codex. CYOA is a super light hybrid rpg and party game. It uses the idea of Choose Your Own Adventure games, but with the ability to roll back to where you last made your pick if something went wrong. Its lightness allowed to to be taught quickly and easily adapted to many settings.
Civil War Premium Event Book Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Cortex Plus
Let us take a moment to remember this fallen rpg. This offers a way to play out the enormous Civil War event in the Marvel universe. MWP took an interesting publication approach with this, releasing both an Essentials and Premium version, with the latter including all of the Marvel Heroic rules. You could also buy just the Marvel Heroic rules. They intended to do the same thing the following year with the Annihilation event, but MWP dropped the license before it could be printed. A pdf version was released out into the wild, as I understand it. But like many MWP Games when they lost the license, the game vanished into the ether.
A gear-punk rpg set during the English Civil War (with demons and magic). This particular second edition came hot on the heels of the original version. I’d actually reviewed several books in the series and then suddenly there was a revised edition. For more of that see here: https://bit.ly/3tuQQ2Y
Clockwork & Chivalry offers a setting with several possible directions. For me it feels like a post-apocalyptic historical setting with a hint of the fantastic thrown in. This is a world turned upside down, with order at all levels overthrown. This opens the door for other awfulness to enter and corrupt. Add to that the ongoing conflicts between factions and man’s general inhumanity to man. It feels like an updating of the best parts of The Enemy Within Campaign, early modern mixed with conspiracy and corruption.
Cold & Dark
This offers another take on space-horror, this one centuries in the future. It looks to have a little bit of everything strange races, distant worlds, corruption of the Void, and lots of grit and chrome. There’s a particular strain of edgy sci-fi horror– with lots of cosmic entities and body horror this fits into, like CthulhuTech, Cthonian Stars, The Void, and others. I’m pretty sure Event Horizon is the major touchpoint for all of these games.
One of the nice things to notice is that Cold & Dark was among the early quick-start indie publishers. It had a free 65 page QS available on RPGNow. I’d say this wasn’t a common thing at this point.
Crypts & Things
Another retro-clone OSR fantasy ruleset. You can tell that there was something in the air about that in 2012. It builds on Swords & Wizardry, a special class of core retro clones. RPG Geek lists OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and GORE as similar base systems like S&W.
The game as a whole aims to emulate the feel of Conan, sword & sorcery over high or low fantasy. A Kickstarter support version of C&T from 2015 is largely the same, but with additional options and rules.
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
The Dr. Who revival with Christopher Eccleston landed in 2005, so Whodom had had time to develop a following hungry for this kind of game. By 2012 we were deep in the Matt Smith era– so this edition, rather than being a major change in mechanics, is instead a change in the focus character, this being the 11th Doctor Edition.
Licensed games can be hard both in trying to capture a feel and in having to deal with the legal complexities of things like art, photos, and likenesses. But DWAiTaS presents a great range of evocative stills from the show.
It’s also worth noting how smartly Cubicle 7 approached the design here. It’s clean but not sterile. It has lots of interesting character options, but those don’t bog down resolution which is simple and fast.
Dog Eat Dog
A striking and important game, Dog Eat Dog is a game of “colonialism and its consequences.” It is set on a small island in the South Pacific. One player plays the Occupation Forces and everyone else plays the natives. It’s one of the few games I can think of, beyond Spirit Island, which prioritizes the viewpoint of the local peoples.
It’s, as I understand it, a tough game that may need the right audience. I remember talking with Rishi, a GM who I’d met through RPGGeek, at Games on Demand Gen Con. He’s had one session he ran of it go really well, with the players engaging with the ideas. The other, not so well, with the group spinning off into the weird and fantastical and rejecting the premise.
It’s worth reading Shut Up & Sit Down’s review of it.