Part Thirty-Two: 1998, Yer Blues. A Historical Overview of Role-playing from the Trenches

At this point in the series we’re only three years away from The Year 2001… THE FUTURE. But here we’re just interested in gamers and role-playing, so let’s roll. (See what I did there?)

Looks deceptively friendly, doesn’t it?

Hasbro the Giant

This year yer pal Hasbro purchased game publisher Avalon Hill and fired everyone. AH had been founded way back in 1952 by Charles S. Roberts (who got a gaming award named after him).

They were known for such games as Tactics, Gettysburg, Outdoor Survival and Squad Leader, as well as for publishing a licensed Runequest line. There are no tears in game publishing.

FASA Crimson Skies

Remember our old friends at FASA? This year they published a neat pulp game of flying aces set in an alternate timeline. This wasn’t an RPG though, it was something like Star Fleet Battles, right down to marking off hits on disposable charts for each plane. As you know, I’m a sucker for flight sims, so I like this. There was an awful lot of material published for this line, the books usually formatted as if they were popular “pulp” magazines from within the game’s setting. A video game version would be released, as well as a re-working to use collectible little pre-painted model planes. I have a pile of them. They have those little Wizkids click-bases so you can adjust the stats as your plane is damaged. If you’re into the pulp era and planes, you should check this out. I still wish there were an actual RPG based in this setting. I might hack something together some day.

GURPS is still a crappy name.

GURPS Traveller

What? You got GURPS in my Traveller! Yep, ol’ Steve Jackson’s GURPS has become known for pumping out innumerable source books detailing various IPs, and this is the year that they launched a licensed Traveller line. The thing would really take off. Perhaps partially because they “re-set” the timeline of the official Traveller setting, bringing things all the way back to where they were in the original “Classic” Traveller game. Ignoring all the annoying changes that had plagued the subsequent Traveller re-writes, we were now back to a huge advanced empire of humans with neighboring alien empires and a frontier ripe for exploration. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I hated the GURPS system, I would’ve become quite a fanboy of GURPS Traveller. I’ve finally reached a stage in my life where I’m OK with adapting something from one rules set to another, so I own a decent amount of these books now. Although its popularity didn’t last forever, it was around for a good long while and certainly seems to have been a smart idea. Interestingly, the GURPS Traveller line was headed up by Loren Wiseman. He’d been a co-founder of GDW, and a co-author of Traveller, so it was a perfect fit for him. You certainly had to admit that he knew Traveller.

Your new masters.

The King is a Fink

Let’s move on to the world of computers, where Micro$oft has become the biggest company in the world. Bet you couldn’t see that coming.

Also a deceptively friendly look.

Also, this is the year that Google (the search engine company) is first incorporated. So yeah, landmark year for Big Brother, sort of a watershed moment. Don’t pick up the soap.

The Circle Game

There’s not a lot of “new” computer role-playing games this year, other than sequels. 1998 saw Fallout 2, Return to Krondor, and W40K Chaos Gate. But there was one new landmark debut.

Baldur’s Gate

“Go for the eyes, Boo, GO FOR THE EYES!!!”

You guessed it Minsc, Baldur’s Gate hit the scene heralded by a miniature giant space hamster named Boo. I wasn’t thrilled with the version of D&D that ran it, and I had to flick on all of the “stop the real-time when THIS happens…” toggles, but the story was great, the characters were great, and the graphics were damned impressive. It’s hard to ignore the impact this game had on we few, we happy few, we band of brothers. Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars. And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’

OK, maybe I got carried away there, but really, the game was a shared victory for so many gamers. Go ahead. Sotto voce, say “Go for the eyes, Boo” in a room full of gamers and you will immediately be the center of attention. Go ahead.

So what have we learned?

Not friendly.

Business is harsh. And at this point, games are a business.

to be continued

3 thoughts on “Part Thirty-Two: 1998, Yer Blues. A Historical Overview of Role-playing from the Trenches

  1. Don’t know your view on Savage Worlds (it doesn’t come out until 2003 IIRC) but the Frozen Skies setting from Utherwald Press strikes me as a lot like Crimson Skies. Which does, indeed, cry out for an RPG.

    Liked by 1 person

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