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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Bundled Over the Edge

Over the Edge might just share with Vampire: the Masquerade the accolade of bringing RPGs into the 1990s. A certain tip of the hat may be owed to late-1980s designs like Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun which brought a certain gritty attitude to proceedings, or releases like Ars Magica or Pendragon which took an almost arthouse cinema approach to what had been a B-movie-and-blockbusters sort of medium previously, but in terms of games actually released in the 1990s, Vampire and Over the Edge really set the mode for the rest of the decade – particularly when it came to games turning a spotlight onto modern-day settings where high weirdness abounds. Though later games like Vampire: the Requiem or Unknown Armies would arguably hit the same notes with better clarity and superior design, you can’t imagine either game happening unless they were able to build on the foundations set by their predecessors.

A while back, the Bundle of Holding put out an Over the Edge bundle, which offers as good a cross-section of the line as any. (Plus it has an adventure from Atlas Games’ WaRPed Adventures lines, based off a generic version of the Over the Edge system, but that’s slight enough that I won’t cover it here.)

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