"Second-Chance" Games

My recent return to RIFTS via Savage Worlds has got me thinking about other games of the past that I left behind in my youth--and whether I should go back and revisit them now.

Anyone who has been gaming for a few years or more probably has at least one system that retains a certain level of infamy or wistful nostalgia; a system that promised much but, for whatever reason, failed to deliver, and was either angrily consigned to the dustbin or sadly traded away for store credit at NobleKnight (too specific an example?).

For a long time, RIFTS was one of these games. As a teenager I played the hell out of it, far more than even D&D. Then I stopped. When I tried to go back to it, I found the system no longer to my liking.

My Rifts:2112 project was actually born of an attempt to give RIFTS a "second chance.". Back in 2008, I ran two or three sessions using the rules as written before I had to bail and start looking at other systems. Up until this year, the prospect of actually running RIFTS remained pretty abstract, though. Now I'm fairly giddy as I plan to return to RIFTS in what I feel is going to be a rewarding and familiar way, and this has me thinking of other games left behind long ago.

Around the same time I was experimenting with giving RIFTS a second chance, I wrote a blog post about Gary Gygax's post-TSR RPG, Dangerous Journeys: Mythus. (Hey, the game was published in the 90s, when every RPG by law had to have two titles separated by a colon.) Even eight years on, it continues to generate the occasional comment. Notably, a significant minority of the comments take a neutral or even conciliatory stance towards the game.

This strikes me as notable because one usually sees Mythus getting dragged online (when it's mentioned at all), most notably in Chris Hogan's epic "Let's Read: Mythus" series (sadly unfinished, as the task of reading through Mythus seems to have completely killed off Hogan's will to blog). You'd think stuff like that would be enough to put me off the game entirely, yet there remains something ineffable about its attraction. I almost feel like this is something I need to return to and conquer. Plus, you can't argue with the awesome Janet Aulisio artwork...

So yeah, Mythus is my Great White Whale and will probably drag me down beneath the waves should I ever try and engage with it again. (Spoiler alert for Moby Dick!) There's another game from my callow youth that I think might actually prove downright rewarding, though: Underground.

Styled Ray Winninger's Underground on the cover (again, the 90s saw some very strange naming conventions for games), I picked this baby up in 1993, the year it came out, meaning I would have been about 15 years old at the time. I was simultaneously enthralled and scandalized by the game's contents. It was the first "mature themes" RPG I'd ever read; it was glossy and colorful and featured all sorts of crazy-ass art.

Unfortunately, I completely missed the point of the game. I had zero familiarity with the game's sources of inspiration. Martial Law? Never heard of it. Aeon Flux? Yeah, I saw, like, half an episode back in junior high. DC Heroes? Never played it. I honestly thought I was buying a cyberpunk game, and was startled when a review in Dragon magazine identified the game as belonging to the supers genre? Supers? But...where are the capes?

Character creation with my group took three hours. Then everyone died during the first encounter of the first session. We immediately declared the game broken (because it couldn't possibly be us!) and "Underground" became a byword for "lame, broken game" for years afterward.

Nowadays I'm not so sure. Even after that initial debacle, the setting remained (and remains) my all-time favorite dystopian RPG future history. The Parameter Rules strike me as a fascinating stab at systematizing social change with a "lesser of two evils" approach that seems like it would be lots of fun to run. I'm much more familiar with the game's sources of inspiration now.

It wouldn't be anytime soon, but I could see giving Underground another serious go. I'd make an attempt to use the adapted DC Heroes system that powers the game as-written, but if that doesn't work there's always ICONS or FASERIP or similar.

At any rate, I felt sufficiently motivated to cash in some of my Noble Knight store credit to pick up a copy of the rulebook. The cosmic ballet...goes on.