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 either consisting of patchy US imports or a few local magazines published 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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Referee’s Bookshelf : Skyrealms of Jorune

Settings reputed to be too weird to effectively run are about as old as RPGs themselves; Empire of the Petal Throne was, when it originally came out, reputed to be unplayably dense and weird, though I suspect a lot of that stems from it taking more inspiration from South Asian and Mesoamerican cultures than it did from European history. In the 1980s, the crown of “wackiest setting” belonged to Skyrealms of Jorune, famed for running a series of adverts in Dragon magazine like this one:

And to be honest, right there you can see both what people found appealing about Jorune and what people found off-putting. The artwork is impressively weird, and combined with the dialogue it takes on a whimsical, almost Vancian quality. At the same time, the actual dialogue is full of fantasy gibberish words and suggests a fussy, overprecise setting with lots of fiddly details.

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