I’ve been doing these in alphabetical order, but I skipped over this one. This is an Old School Revival game, but it takes Metagaming’s The Fantasy Trip as its basis rather than any form of D&D. TFT came out of the Melee & Wizard microgames, building a more robust rpg game out of the tactical boardgames. That being said The Fantasy Trip remained a number crunchy, min-max system. You can see its DNA in GURPS.
Heroes & Other Worlds keeps the tactical, point-build approach of The Fantasy Trip. While it can be played as a simulationist ttrpg, it also can be a competitive board game. It has a few innovations on the original, but largely hews close to the source material. It had several sourcebooks released for it.
La Puerta de Ishtar
aka The Gate of Ishtar
A Spanish horror game set in a pseudo Ancient World ruled by an immortal force. I’m going to follow RPGGeek’s lead and simply present the Google translated back cover blurb (buckle up):
"Between the basins of the Idigna and the Buranum is the Empire of Akkad. Conquered and ruled by Sargon the Alchemist for over 2,000 years. First and Only Emperor. The greatest since Gilgamesh. There the Awilu live surrounded by luxury and comfort, while the Mushkenu and the Wardu, the created races, work for them and protect them from all danger.
Enshakushanna, Witch King with braided beard, dominates the city of Uruk with an iron fist. The sacrifice of countless lives to the wishes of the star gods from the top of the Ziggurat gives him knowledge and power. Shuk-Nippurash, she who needs no husband, brings fertility to Kish. The Phoenicians, deaf-mute artisans, offer their merchandise to the merchants of Assur in exchange for lives. A revolt of those slaves who feared that fate is put down in Lagash. Plague, no doubt summoned by a rival Warlock, rages in Nippur. Incursions by the Cimmerians from the mountains to the north and the Uridimmu from the desert to the west end in fierce fighting. Bronze weapons collide with each other and blood is the only thing that waters the arid steppe between the rivers.
In Akkad freedom does not exist. In Akkad life is worth nothing.
They say it is the price of civilization.
But it was not always like this. Before it was Summer. But those who still knew the lost writing fled with Hammurapi. With their god Enlil defeated, they founded the underground city of Babylonia, where the sickly light of the stars does not reach. For more than two millennia, the Ishtar Gate, which allows access, has been closed.
Everything is about to change. The door has been opened.
The Ishtar Gate is a role-playing game for 2 or more players. You only need paper, pencil, 4 dice and your imagination. Enter the exciting world of Kishar."
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
I talked a little about this earlier on this list, with the Civil War + Base Game version of MHR. It was an interesting publishing strategy, releasing a couple different versions of the core book the same publishing year. Yes, you could buy the Civil War “event book” separately as well, but I’m not sure I’ve seen another company take the same approach. And the plan was to carry that forward, with the Annihilation Event Book released in two versions, one with the core rules and one without.
MWP also released a few smaller sourcebooks in 2012, all tied into the status of groups featured in the Civil War comic event: X-Men, Young Avengers/Runaways, and the 50 States Initiative. I’m guessing This last group is probably forgotten by all but serious comics fans. For a game which has lived on the hearts of many superhero ttrpg folks, it’s wild to see how little actually came out for the game.
Mazes & Minotaurs Maze Masters Guide
I have 60 games on this list (technically 59 because of the Marvel Heroic doubling), and of those 9 could be considered Old School Renaissance or at the very least OSR adjacent. And of course this doesn’t consider sourcebooks or modules released that year. That might push this significant portion up even further.
The designers call this the Silver Jubilee Edition, which is a play on the concept that this game is “what the first fantasy roleplaying game could have been if its authors had taken their inspiration from Jason & the Argonauts (yes, the 1963 movie with all the cool Ray Harryhausen monsters) and Homer’s Odyssey rather than from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts & Three Lions.” It had two editions before this, with minor changes between them.
This version is more ambitious, with a GM Guide, Player’s Manual, and Creature Compendium. The revision seems to be primarily based on some small corrections as well as bringing in new material from the official webzine which had been running since 2007.
I remember Mermaid Adventures being striking for its focus on the idea of friendships & mystery solving, with a new and unusual setting. It utilized Third Eye Games Pip system, mechanics which powered other games from the publishers. As far as I can tell, this 2012 version is a complete game. In 2017 it was revised to be a compatible setting with the Pip System corebook released the same year.
Mermaid Adventures comes from two great people. Eloy Lasanta designed the game. He’s a really solid designer who has created a ton of interesting worlds over the years (Part-Time Gods, Ninja Crusade. AMP). It’s illustrated by the amazing Melissa Gay, a prolific artist, who provides a fun and consistent look to the game.
A game of cute fuzzy heroes. You play various kinds of anthropomorphized creatures trying to fight back against humans encroaching on your woods. Michtim fits into some of the same space as Mouse Guard (released in 2008), but it’s a more accessible indie game. That isn’t to say MG’s bad, just that the Burning Wheel DNA in it can put some off.
Michtim also takes the tact of having a world where humans exist and can be a threat, quite different from MG.As well it takes a particular stand. From the designer summary “Michtim also strives to be an ethical game. It revolves around its three central Virtues: Charity, Civilisation and Conservation. The game is also different in its tone. Neither sexism, racism nor homophobia have a place in Michtim culture.” That’s something we’ve seen more explicitly in recent years, so I’m struck to see it clearly stated in a game from 2012.
Monster of the Week
It’s arguable that the big three Post-Apocalypse World games are Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, and Monsterhearts. All three came out two years after AW and demonstrated the strength of PbtA as a highly adaptable core engine. They all do very, very different things.
Monster of the Week is probably closest to Hunter and Buffy in approach and tone. It keeps a crunchier combat, with a large harm track and more blow by blow combat. But it also has compact, streamlined set of mechanics for mystery solving, and importantly tightly bounds what a mystery is.
While we saw playbooks for Dungeon World arrive fairly soon (with Johnstone Metzger’s Class Warfare sourcebook providing a massive toolkit), I saw even more activity surrounding Monster of the Week– with tons of new playbooks appearing covering a host of different idea (my fav still being the Luchadore). Evil Hat’s 2nd edition of MotW would polish and refine this edition, making it a game with long legs (and a new supplement on the horizon).
I mentioned Monster of the Week yesterday as one of the key games in the evolution of PbtA, but I think Monsterhearts is even more important. For one thing, it opened up a whole new design space– creating a new genre and feel for ttrpg play. DW and MotW, as great as they are, work to convert existing genres into PbtA.
It focused on social interaction, emotional play, and character connections. It refined those into systems which weren’t clunky or overelaborate. It took strength from the rising YA and supernatural romance genre, while making it more human and more about exploring a sense of self. And it’s one of the first games to really put queer identity, and the struggle for teen self-identity, front and center.
A second edition in 2017 would consider and integrate discussions about autonomy and manipulation, making a stronger game while keeping the basic elements easy to grasp. I think it’s fair to say that many, many PbtA games owe MH at least as much of a debt as they do to Apocalypse World.
A smaller game than most on this list, and one of the first I remember gaining traction but purely electronic. This horror party game comes from Vincent and Meguey Baker. It’s intended as a quick set up, minimum prep experience. It foreshadows a lot of other narrative games which would follow. The basic rules are split into a player and an MC book.
Ryan Macklin has worked on and/or originated many projects: Backstory Cards, Dresden Files, Fate, Mage, Katanas & Trenchcoats, and more. Mythender is “(a) game about stabbing gods in the face and sundering every mythic being until there’s none left.” It is, in short, the God of War rpg you’ve been looking for.
I remember it being one of the first rpgs paid money directly to the author. It uses fistfuls of dice iirc, and has your characters trying to avoid becoming what you’re trying to destroy. It’s a great pitch and I’m always surprised that it never got more attention. There’s no excuse for that right now, as the pdf is available for free on Drivethru.
There’s a top ten out there of pitches for ttrpgs. Tight, unique, and evocative blurbs that sell a game as being something new and something you didn’t know you wanted. I’d put Night’s Black Agents at the top of the list. I remember when I first heard the concept my brain broke a little and I was obsessed about it for weeks.
That can be a dangerous reaction– because sometimes you think about and imagine something so hard that the end product can’t help but disappoint. NBA’s arguably the crunchiest of the Gumshoe versions, with lots of options and mechanics buried. But even if that’s not your jam, the central concept– Bourne vs Vampires– works. It’s adaptable and the material present in the core book is so good.
One thing that’s less discussed about NBA is how it kind of rescues the spy genre. With the end of the cold war, espionage rpgs had been trying to find a place to go. What we got was cartoonish super-agents or pulp action movie stuff. Attempts to do technothrillers or to create an artificial set of opposing agencies felt flat. NBA energizes that– and makes what might otherwise be workaday (Baltic gunrunning, corporate IP theft) more engaging because fo the supernatural backstory.
Omertà: el poder de la Mafia
A Spanish ttrpg which roughly translates to Omertà: the power of the Mafia. This is a game of the Roaring 20’s in the US where you can play gangsters, bootleggers, or other criminals. OOH you can also play as law enforcement. And, to quote the user summary on RPGGeek “There are also different feminine characters, from Flappers to Club Dancers to Prostitutes.” I’m not sure how much that’s an odd interpretation or a literal read on the game.
It looks like the publisher, Holocubierta, turned the same theme into a board game a couple of years later. It had at least several supplements (Chicago Wet City, Chicago Dry Agents)– but as of last year Holocubierta closed out the line.
Part of FFG’s massive line of Warhammer 40K rpgs. I think in the discussion of OSR, Indie, and D&D rpgs (5e, PF), some games get left out of the discussion. Sure there’s discussion of games from Cubicle7, Free League, or Modiphius, but the sheer number of rpgs set in the grim darkness of the far future sometimes gets overlooked.
Only War is the rpg for playing the Imperial Guard, the soldiers of humanity spreading out among the stars. It’s a complete stand-alone rpg, but fully compatible with FFG’s other 40K titles. Only War is the fifth of these distinct lines; it reminds me of the connected World of Darkness rpgs. And OW isn’t a minor footnote, it’s a game with eight supplements released for it.
When FFG ceased producing these titles, Cubicle 7 seems to have taken over, at least the electronic versions. The physical versions remain out of print.
Our Last Best Hope
One of the earliest releases from Magpie Games. OLBH is a story game aiming to emulate “battle the apocalypse” disaster movies. The blurb mentions Sunshine, Deep Impact, The Core, and Armageddon as touchstones.
It’s a highly narrative game, with different playsets for different disasters– allowing you to tailor the movie and the characters. For some reason this has always been in a pair in my mind with Durance. They came out around the same time and mentally I mixed them up for the longest time.
Over the Edge: 20th Anniversary Edition
Over the Edge, for me, defined a certain kind of early 1990s game. A weird premise, OK production values, new slightly oddball system, and looking like it would only ever get a single release. But unlike so many of those which eventually ended up on discount racks, OTE had legs.
Part of that came from the way the world expanded in striking ways– like the addition of the Cuts Ups. Part of it came from solid modules with colorful hooks. And, it must be said, part of that came from the On the Edge CCG. I have no idea how much the card game pushed book sales. In our area that was modest: awareness with the occasional impulse buy.
The card game was good, funny, and weird. I actually collected complete sets of it. But it was also one died during the CCG bust & boom cycle. You’d see it on discount tables at cons for several years after. Atlas did a new version of Over the Edge a couple of years ago, trying to update it for the modern world. But it managed to cut out much of the charm of the original.