These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...
Not too long ago, I passed my 21-year anniversary of RPGing. Thinking about that, and looking fondly at my bookshelves full of old gaming products, I decided I'd take a few minutes to share some thoughts about my favorites (not including products I've been involved with, such as Dark Matter).
These are by no means the "best" gaming products that have ever been published, or even the best ones I own. But for various reasons, I have a soft spot for each and every one of them. And if it's a bit TSR-biased, chalk that up to a young gamer's limited exposure to "the competition." Now, in no particular order...
Dungeon Masters Guide (1st Edition)
I still believe that every time I open this book, I find a new section that I hadn't seen before. Despite a haphazard organizational scheme, this book was (and is) a treasure trove of material for the DM. As spoiled as we are today with hundreds of sourcebooks on the store shelves and thousands of gaming sites on the Internet, it's hard to imagine a time when this book was It. The tagline on the cover describes the DMG as "Essential Reference Information for Gamemastering Advanced D&D" and that just about captures it perfectly. This is an information dump of titanic proportions, and its effects are evident even today in the 3rd Edition DMG, which owes much of its style and structure to this weighty tome.
Against the Giants
Originally published as Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King, these classic modules were my first exposure to the "Advanced" version of D&D. I'd guess that I've run them more times than any other adventure I own (even Keep on the Borderlands). They're just classic hack-n-slash in the grand tradition, warts and all. They give plenty of latitude for the DM to innovate and play around with the setups, while providing him with all the basic info needed to run the monsters. Worth emulating, even today.
Villains and Vigilantes RPG
Jeff Dee & Jack Herman
Fantasy Games Unlimited
The first superhero game I ever played, V&V was also my first non-TSR game. I still look back with fondness at classic slugfest adventures such as Crisis at Crusader Citadel, Death Duel with the Destroyers, and the Island of Doctor Apocalypse. Perhaps the coolest character of the two campaigns I ran was Amoeba Man (run by my old friend Kris Gish), who as you might guess was the beneficiary of a set of "One-Celled Animal Powers." Despite the system's unnecessary complexities in character creation (hit points were a product of five different factors, for instance), the game had a good pace and allowed for a pretty wide variety of characters. And the art was perfect comic-book style. Heightened Strength B, anyone?
Like most veteran gamers out there, I have a love-hate relationship with this book. While there's no doubt that it introduced some horrifically unbalanced concepts to AD&D, there's also no mistaking the aura of excitement it brought with it. As the first real "expansion" of the game, it opened up new options and opportunities to explore heretofore (for this 14-year-old gamer, anyway) undreamed of. Cavaliers, hierophant druids, barbarians, wild elves, thief-acrobats, full plate armor, falchions and whips, demihuman deities, and of course, tons of new spells and magic items! Since I wasn't (yet) a regular reader of Dragon magazine, this material was all completely new to me, and it inspired all kinds of new characters for my gaming group. For good or ill, Unearthed Arcana set the tone for the ever-popular "splatbooks" of modern gaming.
Lords of Creation RPG
Avalon Hill Game Company
The first "multi-genre" RPG I'm aware of (before such a term even existed, I'd guess), LoC was a truly off-the-wall game full of time travel, dimension-hopping, aliens, superpowers, and mythological gods and monsters. The game was much more about cool concepts than hard-and-fast mechanics, but at age 13 or 14, who cared? Characters had skills such as "International Connections," "Advanced Criminology," and "Total Recall;" powers included "Elemental Shaping" and "Plasteel Body;" weapons available ranged from slings to gamma rayguns; and your potential opponents included robots, zombies, mutants, yetis, trolls, dragons, and even deities such as Ares or Set. Truly a game that "goes to 11."
Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog
J. Robert King and Co.
Though some might scoff at the idea of paying money for a catalog full of things that don't actually exist, I still find use for this handy little book in my games today. Sure, the gnomish mechanisms are goofier than I'd like, and there certainly aren't any swimwear-wearing drow in *my* game, but it's perfect for adding a bit of flavor to an inn or shop. And I appreciate the attempt to include minor rules material for many items, even if some of the decisions were a bit misguided. (OK, anyone out there who *didn't* try to convince his DM to let him specialize in the auto-decapitating reaver on page 53?)
Dan Gelber, Greg Costikyan, Eric Goldberg
West End Games
Billed as a role-playing game "of a darkly humorous future," Paranoia's the only intentionally funny RPG I've ever really enjoyed. Everybody in my group still remembers the time that Greg's troubleshooter tried to open up the 50-gallon drum of petroleum jelly with a cutting torch...only to find out it was actually jellied petroleum (insert earth-shattering KABOOM). The puns were awful, the plots paper-thin, and the endings usually predictable, but we had loads of fun all the same. (Just how far *can* you throw a tac-nuke hand grenade, anyway?) Just remember to stay alert, trust no one, and keep your laser handy!
Player's Option: Skills & Powers
Douglas Niles & Dale A. Donovan
While the entire Player's Option series of hardbacks introduced a wealth of cool concepts, this one really set the tone. PO: S&P showed players how to customize their characters like never before, opening up fantastic options for class features, proficiencies, traits, magic, and psionics. You didn't have to be a min-maxer to enjoy this book, just a player who like creating unique and special characters.
Planescape campaign setting
David "Zeb" Cook
This is my single favorite campaign setting ever produced, hands down. Never before had concept, design, graphics, art, and attitude come together in quite such a powerful combination. And the line of support products that came behind it were, with few exceptions, tremendously entertaining and well-written. One of my first real honors after TSR joined Wizards of the Coast (my employer then and now) was meeting Planescape "keepers of the flame" Monte Cook and Michele Carter at GenCon 1997. Try as I might to remain professional, I'm sure I couldn't help but goob.
Stefan Pokorny, creator
Absolutely, positively, flat-out the best gaming aid I've ever owned. Though the cost of owning a wide range of sets can be daunting, once you start using this stuff it's hard to imagine living without it. I think it appeals to the Lego fan in all of us--it's just so much fun building dungeons to move your figs around in while fighting giants, orcs, and dragons. It also adds a great tactile sensation to gaming, with great textures and good heft to the pieces. (The prepainted figs are pretty nice, too.) I look forward each year to seeing what new sets are coming out.
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[All images used without permission. No challenge is intended to the various trademarks and copyright holders.]
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.