While discussing the advertising in vintage Dragon magazines over on Zachary’s RPG blog II, I realized exactly how many ads Fantasy Games Unlimited had in each issue back then.
Of course, the second realization was exactly how many FGU games I had bought because of those exact ads over the years. Going through my shelves I can see ten FGU RPGs, and several of them remain some of my favourite games when waxing poetic about the old days of roleplaying in the 80’s.
As this week’s Monday list, from my collection, here are my top 5 picks if you were to go hunting for FGU classics today:
1. Villains & Vigilantes
Seriously made of awesome. It’s like someone took the D&D-like Superhero 2044 and decided it could be done right if it were done by the right people. Part of the absolute charm of the game is that one of the authors is Jeff Dee, who provided the excellent superhero illustrations throughout. While the character generation system, due to the dependency on random generation typical of the era, provides some odd mixes of characters with little balance between them, the adventures were miles above the material being sold for the Marvel RPG or any other supers game of the era. Even if you already play another superhero game, check out the adventures for V&V, they are indeed worth the price.
How else to describe this game other than… hard-core post-apocalyptic roleplaying? This game is complex and gritty. It feels like Mad Max meets Twilight 2000. And the rules are about half as complex as Phoenix Command, which makes them about four times more complex than needed. And really, a two-page flow-chart for combat? Regardless, the setting is gritty and brutal, the game play does work once you get familiar with the rules, and the setting is just post-apocalyptic enough that it becomes easy to get into as you try to figure out how to survive right after the end of the world. The campaign material varies in quality but the setting books are very sandbox-oriented – more so than the equivalent books for Twilight 2000 which assumed that you would work through them like a module.
3. Chivalry and Sorcery
Of the games offered by FGU, this is the only one I’m aware of that has moved on to other editions published by other companies (Villains & Vigilantes self-published sequel by Jeff Dee is running under a different name). Chivalry & Sorcery was my second Canadian RPG – written by a gaming group in Edmonton. It feels like a very ‘advanced’ version of Dungeons & Dragons, using a character level and skill based advancement system. The game, a lot like Aftermath!, was very gritty and “realistic” instead of the flights of fantasy seen in the popular TSR games of the era. The campaign supplement, Swords & Sorcerers, focuses on a historical setting based around Celt, Viking and Mongol cultures on earth with a minimal interference by magic into the setting.
4. Space Opera
Strangely appealing to me even to this day, Space Opera reads like an RPG designed by a comittee that never met in person to play the game. This may have something to do with it being written by three authors seperated by vast geographical reaches in an era without easy internet communication. Character creation is particularly long and arduous, and this was one of the first games I ran across where much of it was done by spending points instead of rolling on tables – a strong departure from D&D and Traveller. However Traveller’s career system is still here (and will appear again in another RPG by Phil McGregor – StarPlay) with the exception that the chance of dying during character creation has been eliminated. Even more than Traveller, Space Opera was meant to be run in whatever existing Sci-Fi universe the group had in mind, but it also came equipped with it’s own game setting which was originally used in the Space Marines wargame, also published by FGU. Support for the setting was provided in a collection of excellent Sector Atlas supplements that can easily be slipped into most other Space Opera style RPGs. For years we used a few sector books and the Star Wars universe to run a Space Opera campaign that all five of us involved still remember fondly.
Before we had Oriental Adventures, three different companies published Bushido – and it’s impact is definitely felt on the design of the classic 1e Oriental Adventures book. What amazed me at the time was the sheer weight of the game on each character’s shoulders as you balanced the deadliness of combat, the requirements to maintain your honour, and the desire to adventure and gain the ‘traditional’ benefits that adventuring provides. While the honour system made its way over to the D&D version, Bushido really made it feel more important to the character. The deadliness of combat was something that D&D couldn’t compare to, and Bushido’s final grace was the emphasis on family and social group loyalty required for character advancement. While a lot of this was obviously attempted for Oriental Adventures, it was more implied than directly required by the rules set.