Blast From The Past: Old RPGs Still Worth Playing

My husband’s gearing up to start GMing again this fall after taking a break for several months. Like many gamers, he has more campaign ideas than he has time, and has been debating what system to use. So to get some help, he did what anyone would do: posed the question on Facebook, with a list of game systems – old and new – that he’s been considering. One of our youngest gamers responded that he was tired of the old games that a lot of people at our game club still like to play. He’d rather play new stuff and forget about the old.

Now, there are new RPGs coming out almost every day, and I’m all for them. There’s a certain thrill to breaking the shrinkwrap on a new gaming book or box set, reading through brand new rules, and letting your thoughts race with character concepts and campaign ideas. Without new games, the industry would be struggling (if it even still existed) and the gaming community would be slowly fading away without any new blood. I wouldn’t be working in the industry if I wasn’t supportive of new games.

But old games…man, old games are sometimes exactly where it’s at. Forget about the old games? Never!

Why Go Old School?

Remember the first really good game you played in? The one with the great GM, the close-knit group of players, and the campaign that was the stuff legends are made of? There’s probably more than one soft spot in your heart for games like that. And odds are if you’ve been gaming any length of time, few if any of those games used a system you’re currently playing. The nostalgia factor alone is a strong motivator for going back to the tried and true. There are many things in our pasts we can’t relive, but you can once again feel the thrill of watching the fate die explode four times in a row just by pulling out your old books.

Memories are great, but they’re not strong enough to overcome a clunky system. Luckily, more than a few older games still stand the test of time. We are in a magical age of RPG publishing, but there have been lots of epic moments over the past few decades. Before Paizo and WotC were the titans of fantasy gaming, there was TSR. Before Star Wars d20, there was Star Wars d6. All the TSR and West End Games books on our shelves aren’t just collector’s items – they still see frequent use week in and week out.

Remember a few years ago when one of the major TV networks promoted summer reruns with the tagline, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you”? The same thing goes for classic games. If the oldest thing you’ve ever played is 4E, even taking one step back to 3.5 opens the doors to a brand-new gaming experience. Go back further, and the possibilities are endless.

Oldies But Goodies

Wondering which old systems are still worth playing? Here are some of my personal favorites:

AD&D 2nd Edition: I cut my gaming teeth on THAC0. I’m always going to love 2nd edition AD&D because it was what made me love gaming. While I haven’t played 2nd edition since we converted to 3rd edition (and then 3.5, and then Pathfinder), I would play it again in a heartbeat, even with the XP penalties to multi-classed characters. How could you not like the system that introduced us to Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and Dark Sun?

Star Wars d6: As much of a d20 girl as I am, when it comes to Star Wars, I still turn to the classic West End Games RPG. Why? Your character can try anything, and if fate is with them, they can succeed at something amazing without any training. Some may call that broken, but I call it luck, and it’s one of the things that creates epic in-game moments. (Besides, haven’t you ever managed to pull something off when you had no real chance of succeeding?) And who doesn’t love the sound of rolling a handful of d6’s?

Old World of Darkness: I love White Wolf’s World of Darkness. Anything that lets me play a vampire is awesome, as far as I’m concerned. And while I’m not opposed to the new World of Darkness (though I’ve only played it a time or two), I’m a big fan of oWoD. I love the politics of the vampire clans and werewolf tribes, the skill system that (like Stars Wars d6) lets you try anything, the GM’s arbitration on difficulty class, and rolling a big handful of d10’s. (Clearly, I am a sucker for rolling lots of dice at once.) Plus, Chicago by Night is one of the best campaign settings, ever. Vampire: The Masquerade is 20 years old this year, and there’s going to be a copy of the anniversary rulebook with my name on it.

Deadlands: It took me a little while to get the hang of Deadlands. Dice and cards and poker chips? It seemed like a lot to keep track of. But all of a sudden, it all clicked, and now I love the system (though combat takes forever). I am really looking forward to playing the new Savage Worlds version, but classic Hell on Earth is going to be tough to beat.

Get Your Old Game On!

If you like a game, have fun playing it, and know other people who like playing it, does it really matter if it’s 20 or 30 years old? I don’t think so. Next time you’re getting ready to start a new game, instead of checking out the latest at your FLGS, open up those storage bins and dig out your old RPG sourcebooks. It’ll be fun, you’ll save the money you would have spent on new books, and breathing new life into an old game just might make you feel young again!

What’s your favorite older RPG? Do you only play the latest games on the market?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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