Collecting fantasy roleplaying gamescovers the biggest of all RPG genres.Sword-and-sorcery RPGswere the first role-playing games created and represent the biggest sellers with the largest fan bases. Dungeons & Dragonscontinues to dominate sales in the fantasy RPG genre, but many of the collectible games have nothing to do with D&D. That’s because the niche games that had limited print runs often combine the rarity and popularity needed to make a collectors item.
Collecting Dungeons and Dragons
That being said, many of the early D&D modules are considered classics and they’ve been around the longest, when no one (including the creators) had any idea how big the roleplaying game hobby would become. I imagine Gary Gygax had no idea that Dungeons & Dragons would spawn over a thousand game supplements, tv shows, movies, board games, miniatures, and magazines–in short, its own sub-culture. So the earliest D&D products sometimes are worth a lot, because you won’t find many of them out there. I’ll go into great detail in our “Collecting D&D” article.
Middle Earth Roleplaying – MERP Supplements
Since Dungeons & Dragons is so influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings setting, it’s no surprise that the Middle Earth Roleplaying game became a cult classic. Often shortened to MERP, the Middle Earth game was first released in 1984 and used a more streamlined version of the Rolemastergame mechanics.
The setting was Middle Earth either after the War of the Ring or around the year 1600 in the Third Age. Subsequent books added new kingdoms to the south and east, so LotR purists may quibble that this isn’t exactly the world created by Tolkien (you can ignore those parts). The magic system is considered to have evolved away from the Middle Earth of the books, because it was more plentiful and powerful. The game has received good reviews by (most) fans over the years.
Finding copies of any of the MERP rules or supplements is hard enough, but finding them at an affordable price is something else entirely. These are some of the most collectible and most expensive RPG products on the vintage RPG market.
Rolemaster 1st Edition came out in 1980. Like MERP, it was produced by Iron Crown Enterprises (usually shortened to I.C.E.) Later editions came out as late as 1995, including four editions of the game in all. Skills are rated 1 through 100, though the higher a skill goes, the harder it is to improve that ability. Hit points are replaced by the severity of hits, so that critical hits are the usual cause of death. If you get a wound, you deal with the consequences of that wound, instead of loss of hit points. Because of the cumulative nature of hits, any weak character has a slight (tiny) chance to defeat even the highest-level characters, making Rolemaster a lethal game for PCs and NPCs alike.
This makes Rolemaster more realistic than D&D, where a character’s body works perfectly fine, whether they have full hit points or 1 hit point. The trade-off is that Rolemaster is somewhat clunkier, due to charts.
Empire of the Petal Throne RPG
The Empire of the Petal Throne takes place in the fictional setting of Tekumel, which was created by Professor M.A.R. Barker, who taught at McGill University and the University of Minnesota from 1958 until the early 1990s. Professor Barker taught at Minnesota while Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were attending school there.
Taking inspiration, Professor Barker turned Tekumel into a roleplaying setting, which was published by TSR in 1975. Like Tolkien, Barker created whole languages for his setting, which was drawn from Native American empires and the ancient Egyptian civilization, instead of the Eurocentric influences of most fantasy gaming universes.
No fantasy RPG borrows more heavily from medieval Europe thanWarhammer, whose map looks startingly familiar to Europe. Where Europe had its Holy Roman Empire, Warhammer has “The Empire”. Where you might expect France (land of the knight) to be, the knightly kingdom of Bretonnia stands. Albion stands in place of England (“perfidious Albion”, a name for England going back to the 13th century at least). Araby is where Arabia and Persia might be–and so on and so on. Warhammer is full of elves and dwarves and orcs, though, and lot of undead. The greatest threat is Chaos, which comes from the polar regions and threatens to wipe everything away.
Warhammer is most famous for its wargaming and miniatures, but theWarhammer Roleplay game is an excellent setting with deft, if somewhat lethal, rules. The rules for magic are among the most balanced I’ve found in roleplaying, combining usefulness with enough drawbacks to make a magic-user think twice about using his most powerful spells. And once again, combat is gritty and dangerous.
Runequest, on the other hand, tries hard to avoid becoming a rehashing of Tolkien or a reimagining of Medieval Europe. Runequesthit stores in 1978, making it one of the first non-TSR fantasy games on the market. Their world of Glorantha has been a gamers favorite for over 30 years.
Designed by Greg Stafford, Glorantha’s elves and dwarves are not like their counterparts on Middle Earth, while adventurers are even more of a motley band of outsiders than you would find in most Dungeons and Dragons settings. (I’ve seen them compared to modern day biker bands, with odd assortments of mounts, armor, and weapons.)
Runequest, produced by Chaosium, used what became known as theBasic Role-Playing System, which eventually powered games likeCall of Cthulhu, Elfquest, Superworld, Stormbringer, Hawkmoon, Elric, Nephilim, and Worlds of Wonder.
Collecting More Fantasy Roleplaying Games
These are some of the earliest and best fantasy roleplaying games ever created, but when you talk about all the great games over the years, this is just scratching the surface. Other games or settings of note include Hawkmoon Eternal Champion, Tunnels and Trolls, Talislanta, Amber Diceless, Ars Magica, Castles & Crusades, Pathfinder, True20, Blue Rose, A Game of Thrones, Grimm, Exalted, In Nomine, Nobilis, Palladium, Conan, and many others.
Even if you wanted to collect every fantasy roleplaying game besides the D&D products, you’d be collecting books for a long time. Finding some part of the fantasy RPG world to start collecting and building your collection not only will help you become more familiar with the big gaming world that exists, but also let you pursue a hobby few other collectors would consider.