Entertainment: 10 90s TTRPGs That Faded Into Obscurity

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The 90s were a good decade for tabletop RPGs. With brilliant games like 7th Sea, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Awakening and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the 90s introduced narrative RPGs that took the medium to places D&D didn’t or couldn’t go. Games in the 90s grew bolder and moved the medium forward. The plain-paper pages and cut-and-paste typesetting of the 80s gave way to bright, full-color imagery and glossy pages.

  10 90s TTRPGs That Faded Into Obscurity © Provided by CBR

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However, many TTRPGs that came about in the 90s simply didn't last, and even less went out on their own terms. These games tried to build a legacy, and some succeeded. For others, time took its toll. They eventually lost their followings, their creators, or in the case of games like Star Wars and Star Trek, their license.

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Armored Trooper VOTOMS Attempted To Ride The Anime Trend

In the late 90s, mecha anime were big business on TV. With the renewed popularity of giant robot anime, R. Talsorian Games scored a hit by licensing the popular anime series Bubblegum Crisis for their new universal system, Fuzion.

Seeking to recapture this magic, R. Talsorian Games went to Nippon Sunrise, the production company responsible for Mobile Suit Gundam, and licensed another classic series: Armored Trooper VOTOMS. While Bubblegum Crisis did well enough to receive a second book, Before and After, VOTOMS and its gloomy wartime themes remained a minor, niche product.

Amber Diceless Went Out Of Print

The brainchild of the late Erick Wujcik, Amber was a roleplaying game based on a new diceless RPG engine. Wujcik’s game covered novelist Roger Zelazny’s sprawling novel world, Nine Princes in Amber, mostly covering the Corwin Saga.

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Amber began fading after Erick Wujcik was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on December 21, 2007. Communicating through his friend and longtime collaborator, Palladium Books owner Kevin Siembieda, Wujcik kept the community updated about his health. Wujcik died on June 7, 2008. At GenCon 2008, Wujcik was awarded the first Lifetime Achievement ENNIE Award.

Changeling: The Dreaming Couldn’t Communicate Its Dream

Changeling was artistically gorgeous. It became one of the first roleplaying games to use full color in its interior artwork after two decades of games primarily using black and white art, with limited use of color plates.

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A game primarily about childhood’s end and loss of innocence, Changeling: The Dreaming was a gorgeous experiment, but it ultimately failed. It saw a brief return in 2007’s Changeling: The Lost, but it was never as successful as its peers.

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Big Eyes, Small Mouth Lost Its Way

Canadian publisher Guardians of Order's debut game, Big Eyes Small Mouth, was a rules-lite, narrative anime RPG. Unlike R. Talsorian’s high-crunch Interlock and Fuzion systems, BESM kept its focus on character and interaction.

A downturn in Canada’s investment markets in the late 1990s and early 2000s helped lead to Big Eyes, Small Mouth's eventual downfall. After several of owner Mark MacKinnon’s investments began turning sour, Guardians of Order closed their doors in 2006. Big Eyes Small Mouth finally received a revival in 2019.

Earthdawn Was A High Fantasy Take On Shadowrun

Representing a "hidden history" type setting, much like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, the world of Earthdawn presented an alternate history that was implied to be set on a distant-past Earth. With its intimate connection to urban-fantasy cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun and its world, Earthdawn seemed a surefire hit.

While Earthdawn was reasonably popular and survived as a line until FASA folded in 2001, the game’s following dwindled over the subsequent years. It remains to be seen whether the re-emergence of FASA Games and its publication of a 4th Edition of Earthdawn will return the game to popularity.

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Lord of the Rings Adventure Game Was A Revision Of Another Game

Lord of the Rings Adventure Game was based on the early Middle Earth Role Playing. By comparison, Lord of the Rings Adventure Game was slightly simplified, intended as a stepping stone for new players to approach the complex system.

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While a popular game for its time, the game's license ended in 1999, and Tolkien Enterprises didn't renew it. The company later went with Decipher, Inc., a well-respected card game manufacturer, to reinterpret Lord of the Rings as a roleplaying game.

Legacy: War Of Ages Wasn't The One

In the 1990s, the TV series Highlander, based on the cult hit movie, had a briefly popular collectible card game. Gorgeously decorated with photography from the TV show, the card game allowed players to simulate sword duels between immortal combatants. One thing it didn't have was a tabletop role-playing game.

Indie publisher Black Gate Publishing in 1993 stepped into this gap with its RPG Legacy: War of Ages. Drawing from both Highlander and new sensation Vampire: The Masquerade, Legacy incorporated too many tedious functions. The resulting game had little to offer compared to the free internet World of Darkness fan supplement Highlander: The Gathering.

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Star Trek Didn't Help Last Unicorn Games Live Long And Prosper

The Star Trek roleplaying game license seldom created lucrative opportunities that its parent show’s heady pedigree would imply. Having to work with a protective corporate parent, Star Trek games were often short-lived.

The well-respected Last Unicorn Star Trek game seemed destined for a long life. The company, previously known for its Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth, lost the license in early 2000 before completing work on its Star Trek Voyager setting book. By the end of that year, Wizards of the Coast purchased its assets.

The Classic Star Wars RPG Didn't Survive

After a well-received first edition in 1987, the definitive second edition for Star Wars Role-Playing Game by West End Games released in 1992 to wide acclaim. For five years, the game seemed untouchable, spawning the 1990s revival of the Star Wars franchise.

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The Star Wars franchise the world knows today came from West End Games’ backbreaking preservation work from 1987 to 1998. The Star Wars fantasy, however, couldn't survive reality. In 1998, the game company’s owner, Bucci Shoe Group, filed for bankruptcy and liquidated the game studio, ending one of the most successful game lines in the hobby’s history.

FUDGE Inspired But Didn’t Persist

The FUDGE RPG was the first tabletop roleplaying game designed by and for the internet. Developed on the USENET newsgroup rec.games.design, the basic game was published by Steffan O’Sullivan in 1992 before getting a print edition in 1995. Used as a game engine for independent RPG projects, FUDGE became an important inspiration for the 90s game design explosion.

As the underlying engine for the popular 21st century roleplaying game Fate, Fudge exists in many modern RPGs. However, the game itself has been out of print since before the millennium. It remains available as a free PDF download, inspiring its successor to do likewise. Like The Velvet Underground, few people played Fudge, but many who did became game designers.

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