A Retro Idea of Retro

I’ve previously discussed insights we can get from Arcane magazine’s Top 50 RPGs feature, but there’s one other feature from the magazine which I think has aged particularly interestingly. Rather than being presented in a single article, though, it unfolded over the span of the magazine’s existence.

This was the monthly Retro feature, each instalment of which offered a one-page retrospective of an old game, by and large (with a very few exceptions) one which was well out of print by the time. This is interesting to look back on now because when Arcane was being published the hobby was some 21-23 years old; this year it’s 46. In other words, more time has now passed since Arcane magazine ended than passed between the emergence of D&D and the appearance of Arcane. It’s interesting, then, to look back and see what games were considered to be old-timey classics from that perspective, and how things have developed since.

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The Arcane Top 50 – Where Are They Now?

Arcane, a short-lived British tabletop gaming magazine from Future Publishing which ran from December 1995 to June 1997, is a name to conjure by for many gamers of around my age. I came to the hobby after White Dwarf had become a Games Workshop in-house advertising platform, and just as Dragon was on the verge of dropping its coverage of non-TSR RPGs altogether; that meant I got a brief taster of TSR having a broader scope of coverage, and missed out on the golden age of White Dwarf altogether.

With other RPG-focused gaming magazines available in the UK only available on a decidedly variable basis (whatever did happen to ol’ Valkyrie?), the arrival of Arcane was immensely welcome. Sure, even by this early stage the Internet was already becoming an incomparable source of both homebrewed material and cutting-edge RPG news, but much of that was in the form of Usenet and forum discussions of variable quality or ASCII text files. To get something which was informative, read well, and looked nice, print media was still just about where it was at.

Truth be told, taking a look back at Arcane in more recent years I’m less impressed than I was at the time. It took largely the same approach to its own subject matter (primarily RPGs, with some secondary consideration to CCGs – because they were so hot at the time they really couldn’t be ignored – and perhaps a light sniff of board game content) that Future’s videogame magazines took to theirs, particularly the lighter-hearted PC Gamer/Amiga Power side of things rather than the likes of, say, Edge. That meant it focused more on brief news snippets, reviews, and fairly entry-level articles on subjects than it did on offering much in the way of in-depth treatment of matters.

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Revisiting Dragon Warriors

So, a while back I did a review of Dragon Warriors, where I was rather dismissive about the game, but thanks in part to writing on the subject of the game on the Uncaring Cosmos blog I decided to give it another look and I think there’s more charm to it than I first gave credit.

First things first, I should admit that I was wrong about the combat system – specifically, I overlooked the fact that a critical hit allows you to bypass the armour penetration roll. (In my defence, they don’t actually give that rule in the armour penetration section itself – just the section on attack rolls – so it’s easier to miss than you’d think.)

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Dragon Meh-iors

Back in the height of the Fighting Fantasy craze there were a number of RPGs released in the UK market not as standard-format RPG rulebooks issued via game publishers to the gaming market but as small paperbacks released by book publishers to the book market. This provided a range of gateway drugs into the hobby marketed to young readers outside of the usual channels. Fighting Fantasy had its own RPG adaptations, of course, and the Corgi reprint of Tunnels & Trolls arguably falls into this category; there was also Maelstrom, whose rich historical flavour made up for many of its system quirks, and Dragon Warriors.

Penned by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, this is another one issued by Corgi, and originally came out as a series of small paperbacks which each added a little more wrinkle to the system – so the fighter-y classes were in the first book, the magic-y ones in the second book, and so on. This was neat enough, but the format did mean that it could become awkward to play as you flipped about between the different books to find the information you needed.

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