10 TTRPG Trends From The 90s We’re Glad We Gone

The 1990s were a fantastic time for tabletop role-playing games. It was a time of creative explosion in the hobby, where many of the trends followed today were born. Some of the most popular TTRPGs played today started in the 1990s.



RELATED: 10 Best Dungeon Crawl TTRPGs (That Aren’t D&D)

There were also several dead-end trends in the TTRPGs of the 1990s. Following the leader has been an enduring trend in gaming history, and some very popular games set up trends that came to nothing. Some of these trends continued much more quietly, but many died out by the end of the decade. Virtually every trend started in the 90s has at least popped up periodically and occasionally faded away.

ten Kitchen Sink Settings That Failed To Capture A Vibe

When done right, a kitchen sink setting like Palladium Books’ faults can result in some truly unique games. The all-go spirit of having a mutant dog sharing a party with a dragon and a rebel soldier from a future American dystopia can create some fantastic possibilities.

While any successful game casts a wider thematic net than a book or movie, some go too far. In some games, like West End Games’ Torg, the combination of all possible genres in a single game resulted in a game that didn’t end up capturing a specific mood. Modern kitchen sink games tend to be more story-driven, such as wild worlds Where Spell.

9 Generic role-playing systems that capture everything but the drama

Steve Jackson Games was best known for releasing the game with the very descriptive moniker of Generic and universal role-playing system. The company, known in the 2000s for publishing the popular Munchkin card game, was previously the publisher of one of the driest role-playing games ever made.

RELATED: 5 Fantasy Worlds That Would Make Great TTRPGS (& 5 That Already Are)

GORPS was an indicator of a trend of generic roleplaying systems that ultimately weren’t very good for roleplaying. With their extremely specific power mechanics, these games put a lot of emphasis on the power play on the characters, and as a result, the characters often don’t have narrative hooks for their power collections.

8 Floods of extra books were bad for the hobby

The 1990s was a decade where every game had to have supplements on a regular basis. These books, usually 32, 64, or 96 pages, added content to tabletop role-playing games. They seemed like a good idea at the time, and indeed most games today still have at least two or three extras.

But the extreme regularity with which supplements were produced in the 1990s led to a drop in quality. Rather than missing a month, game companies often produced highly questionable supplements with poor writing and poor art.

seven Realism as a goal in itself ignored that the game is literature

Many games of the 1990s presented themselves as “realistic”. With rules meant to simulate real-world situations in great detail, these games often had very specific subsystems. The game furry piratesfor example, was a role-playing game wrapped around a rigorous simulation of age of sail warships.

RELATED: Top 10 TTRPGs For Fantasy Fans

games like furry pirates forgotten that role-playing games are a form of literature. The emphasis on simulation made both the game and the literary side of the genre difficult to tackle and embarrassed players inhabiting their characters.

In the 1990s, especially the early 90s, when Japan’s “lost decade” hadn’t really kicked off, many works of science fiction assumed that Japan would control the world in the future. It spread to tabletop games thanks to writing like Gibson’s neuromancerwritten in the mid 1980s.

In the real world, Japan’s pacifist policy and deteriorating financial climate have rapidly diminished this possibility. By 1991, Japan’s economy had entered a deep recession, and worse, its birth rate had plummeted. It took until the 2010s for Japan to recover from the lost decade.

5 90s Game Mechanics Encourage Min-Maxing

Min-maxing is a game practice of taking as many disadvantages as possible that have little or no impact on a character’s play in exchange for powerful advantages. Although the exchange of advantages for disadvantages is explicitly allowed in many one-time purchase systems, the intention is that disadvantages have an impact on roleplaying.

RELATED: 10 TTRPGs With Amazing Art (And The Artists Behind Them)

Min-maxers in point-of-purchase 90s games like GORPS and hero system often treated the game system as a challenge to find the most powerful character they could build, and were sometimes derisively referred to as “munchkins”. Min-maxing often created characters with no discernible personality in pursuit of power.

4 Game publishers sue their fans

In the 1990s, cease-and-desist notices from game publishers, and even lawsuits, often resulted from fans attempting to post game-related material on the Internet. Now, tabletop game publishers are often looking for fan content to include in official material, and fans like Mike Mearls can become full-time employees of the publishers who first inspired them.

In the 1990s, publishers like TSR and Palladium Books developed a negative reputation following lawsuits that attacked their fans. Some have survived these reputational injuries by later embracing fan content. TSR went bankrupt and was absorbed into Wizards of the Coast.

3 TSR’s decline has weakened the hobby

By the late 1980s, TSR ruled the tabletop role-playing game hobby. The seemingly invincible juggernaut had created no less than five role-playing games over the decade. His flagship game, Advanced Dungeons and Dragonshad a new edition in 1989.

RELATED: 10 Things D&D Does Better Than Any Other RPG

In 1992 things were starting to fall apart. With no less than a dozen campaign settings, five of which take place in the world of Forgotten Realms alone, D&D competed against and confused its customers. Customer confusion alienated those same customers, who abandoned the hobby in favor of video games.

Games from the 1990s often had long lists of skills. The Palladium system was a poster child for this, having a roster of skills comparable in size and complexity to D&D spells. Games often had long skill lists without the writers asking what the skill lists would be used for in-game.

The reduction of skill lists began with the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2000. In the mid-2000s, smaller, more focused lists of skills, organized around the theme of the game in which they appeared, became more common.

1 Licensed games have attempted to recapture the Star Wars vibe

In 1987, West End Games successfully licensed star warswinning the license over TSR and its rival FASA, producer of star trek. This game has completely transformed the fortunes of star wars property, relaunching a franchise that has continued ever since.

Other game companies were quick to find popular properties to license, losing track of what made star wars a successful game. A combination of the right time, the right game system and the right license made star wars the success it has been. Other licensed games have struggled due to the absence of one or more of the three.

NEXT: 10 SNES Game Reviews That We Loved, But Haven’t Aged Well

Comments are closed.