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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Dragonmeet Hoard: Rifts

One of the cornerstones of Dragonmeet is the bring-and-buy sale, and on the sale stall this time for the deliciously small price of £5 was a much-battered, clearly extensively used in play copy of 1st edition Rifts.

Rifts is pretty infamous, as is its author Kevin Siembieda and his publishing company Palladium Books, but that infamy seems to me to be a bit patchy. I’ve always had the impression that Palladium fandom was the sort of thing which was very regionally concentrated; you had tight clusters of Palladium fans here and there where their games had taken off, and outside of those bubbles you had numerous gamers who either write them off entirely as juvenile nonsense or haven’t heard of them.

To be fair, in the intervening years since Rifts came out Palladium have done their reputation few favours. Former employees and freelancers have talked of how difficult it can be to work with Siembieda, with this RPG.net post from Bill Coffin being a particularly evocative example. The company’s public-facing communications are usually heavily focused on making a sale to you – which arguably is the case for most PR statements issued by any company, but Palladium’s sales pitch comes across as particularly strident, artless, and nakedly hucksterish; a bit too much like a used car salesperson desperately trying to close a deal, and in a way which can put people’s back up.

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