We are well into the second generation of roleplaying publication. Many of the industry’s earliest principals have retired or passed, and so foundational games have been handed off to a second generation of publishers. Some have even moved on to a third. But this article doesn’t chronicle those roleplaying lines that have been handed off just once or twice, but instead those ones that have had extremely messy and complex histories, with numerous editions published by many different publishers.

It’s three of the weirdest trips in gaming, highlighting: one of the industry’s top FRPGs, RuneQuest; the industry’s top SFRPG, Traveller; and a very different sort of FRPG, Talislanta.

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in the World of Glorantha

Chaosium’s RuneQuest (1978) went through two quick editions in the late ’70s and early ’80s, after which the problems started. That’s because Chaosium decided that they’d prefer to be a design house, so they sold off their game to Avalon Hill with the idea being that they’d continue supporting it, which they did with a third edition (1984). Meanwhile, Games Workshop produced their own third edition of the game (1987), which doesn’t tend to be counted in editions of the game, even though GW’s editions of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer do count!

The problem was that Avalon Hill really didn’t know how to produce, market, or sell RPGs, and so they never met the sales expectations that they’d set when they coaxed Chaosium into the deal. The result? Chaosium had to abandon their premiere line, leaving it entirely dead in the late ’90s. Two different fourth editions then failed to materialize: RuneQuest: Adventures in Glorantha because of the conviction of one of the new edition’s new authors (which was eventually overturned) and RuneQuest: Slayers because Avalon Hill was on their way out of business (to be acquired by Hasbro). The first was available briefly in playtest editions, while the latter was eventually released online as RuneSlayers.

Does Chaosium’s second game in the same setting of Glorantha, Hero Wars (2000) / HeroQuest (2003), count as an edition of RuneQuest? Probably not, but it was definitely intended as a replacement when RuneQuest became totally inaccessible following Avalon Hill’s purchase. That game line was created by Issaries Inc., a spin-off of Chaosium.

Then, in the late ’00s, both Chaosium and Issaries realized that Hasbro had abandoned its interest in RuneQuest , and that they might be able to reconstruct the game. They did so in competition. Chaosium held the rights to the text in the third edition of the game, which they published as the Basic Roleplaying CreaturesMagic, and Players Books (2004). Meanwhile, Issaries had the rights to the game world of Glorantha and also was the company that reregistered the RuneQuest trademark. They then licensed Mongoose Publishing to produce totally new text for a RuneQuest game. It appeared in two editions, which they called RuneQuest (2006) and RuneQuest II (2010). To totally befuddle the numbering, the authors of Mongoose’s RuneQuest II then founded The Design Mechanism to publish what they called RuneQuest 6th edition (2012), counting the two Mongoose editions as fourth and fifth editions, though almost no one had used that nomenclature.

Eventually, both Mongoose and the Design Mechanism lost their licenses for RuneQuest and so they rereleased their games under new names as Legend (2011) and Mythras (2016), respectively. Meanwhile, Mongoose had published their RuneQuest under an open-license, resulting in at least two other major variants, OpenQuest (2009) and Renaissance (2011).

Basic Role-Playing, or BRP, is by-the-by, the generic system that was extracted from RuneQuest, and then used for most of Chaosium’s game systems, most notably including Call of Cthulhu (1981). It’s even been applied to some other fantasy settings, such as Stormbringer (1981), “Magic World” in Worlds of Wonder (1982), and years later the large-scale Magic World (2012) release. Most notably, BRP and the original Magic World were used as the basis for the Swedish game Drakar och Demoner (1982), which was the foundation of the entire Swedish roleplaying industry. Drakar och Demoner accumulated enough aspects of RuneQuest over the years, such as its infamous ducks, that many Swedish roleplayers identify it as a derivative of RuneQuest rather than BRP, which raises the question of whether that too should be counted as an edition.

When Chaosium was reformed under new management their first response was to reprint RuneQuest 2 (2016), which is to say the second Chaosium edition, not the second Mongoose edition. Back in the seventies, that might have been called a new edition too, but now it was just considered a reprint. Then they published a totally new edition that they opted not to call “RuneQuest 7”, but instead RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (2018). Shorthand it’s “RQ:G”, and some fans note that “G” is the seventh letter in the English alphabet.

Shannon’s Weird Rating: 7 editions (+7) + 4 publishers (+4) + numbering disagreements (+5) + two editions with the same number (+2) + unnumbered reprint of an edition (+1) + two unpublished editions (+4) + house system creation (+5) + Swedish industry creation (+5) + died in the ’90s (+5) + open-source edition (+5) + properties at one time split between multiple companies (+2) + trademark recovery (+1) + at least four major spin-offs under different names (+8) = 54

Traveller: The Science-Fiction Roleplaying Game

Traveller (1977) is best-known as the star RPG of GDW, who shepherded the line from its creation in 1977 through the company’s dissolution in 1996. During that time they published three editions of the game, with widely inconsistent naming: Traveller (1977), MegaTraveller (1987), and Traveller: The New Era (1993). Afterward, Imperium Games published Marc Miller’s Traveller (1996), aka T4; and then Marc Miller himself, through Far Future Enterprises, published T5 (2013).

Easy? Not strange at all other than the constantly changing name?

Things got weird following the death of Imperium Games, when Traveller didn’t have a major publishing home for over a decade. During that period, the Charted Space setting got translated to different game systems, including GURPS Traveller (1998) for GURPS 3eGURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars (2006) for GURPS 4eThe Traveller’s Handbook (2002) and its “T20” game system for d20, and Traveller Hero (2007) for the Hero game system.

Normalcy only returned when Mongoose became the new major publisher of Traveller, leading to their Traveller Core Rulebook in first (2008) and second editions (2013), which are known as “Mongoose Traveller” 1e and 2e. As with their RuneQuest, Mongoose published their Traveller under an open license, resulting in the publication of the generic Cepheus Engine (2016). Of course you’ll note the Mongoose Traveller and T5 lines run simultaneously, the latter being more of a toolkit system.

Those many editions of the game were also linked to various editions of the setting, which went from the Golden Age to the Rebellion to the New Era in the original books, a span of about 100 years, but then jumped back 1000 years to Milieu 0 in T4, then over to an alternate version of the Golden Age without a Rebellion in GURPS Traveller, and then thousands of years further back to a time period also covered by the Imperium (1977) board game in Interstellar Wars. Only in recent years has the setting settled on a metaplot-less Golden Age.

Finally, Traveller is also one of the most extensively licensed RPGs ever, with licensors openly invited to build on the setting through a series of “land grants” dating back to the ’70s.

Shannon’s Weird Rating: 10 editions (+10) + other people would count them differently penalty (+5) +7 publishers (+7) + died in the ’90s (+5) + branching editions penalty (+5) + weird editions naming penalty (+2) + simultaneous lines (+2) twice (+2) + open-source edition (+5) + an alternate universe setting (+1) + two far past settings (+2) + very extensive licensing, some with alternate settings (+5) = 51.

Talislanta: Guidebooks, Handbooks, and Just Plain Guides

Compared to RuneQuest and Traveller, the story of the Stephan Michael Sechi’s Talislanta, an original fantasy world that steered away from the tropes of the genre, is fairly straight forward, but that straight-forward movement has involved serially walking through eight different publishers!

Sechi began publishing through his own Bard Games. The Talislanta game thus saw its first two editions with the slightly mismatched names of The Talislantan Handbook (1987) and Talislanta Handbook and Campaign Guide (1989). Afterward, a third edition, now called the Talislanta Guidebook (1992), marked Wizards of the Coast’s entrant to the wider roleplaying world.

After Wizards of the Coast decided that they believed in Magic (1993), Talislanta went through the hands of two publishers who failed to produce a game: Daedalus Entertainment and Pharos Press. Eventually, Pharos’ web site hosting company, Shooting Iron, came out with the fourth edition that Pharos had begun, called simply Talislanta (2001).

A few years later, Morrigan Press appeared to publish Talislanta d20 (2005). They then returned to the original Talislanta system and turned it into a generic house system, The Omni System (2005). Morrigan used that as the basis for a few different games and eventually returned to produce a fifth edition of Talislanta itself, which appeared as A Gamemaster’s Guide to Talislanta (2007) and A Player’s Guide to Talislanta (2007).

After licensing his game to five different publishers, none of whom had produced much, Sechi decided to make all of his gamebooks available for free as online PDFs — which looked like it’d be the end of the story. Not so. The first five editions all remain available online at talislanta.com, but there’s also been continued licensing activity.

Stewart Wieck’s Nocturnal Media was Talislanta’s seventh suitor. Though Wieck passed before the project’s conclusion, Gallant Knight Games helped to bring it to conclusion. The result was a prequel, Talislanta: The Savage Land (2018), also available in D&D 5e and OpenD6 versions.

A new edition is also on the way, the “Epic Edition” for Talislanta and D&D 5e. It’s to be produced by Everything Epic Games.

Shannon’s Weird Rating: 8 editions (+8) + 8 publishers (+8) + publisher/edition parity penalty (+8) + unpublished publishers penalty (+2) + died in the ’90s (+5) + weird editions naming penalty (+3) + creation of a house system (+5) + free downloads of everything (+5) + three different D&D conversions (+3) + a Savage Edition not for Savage Worlds (+1) + a far past setting (+1) = 49.

This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #64 on RPGnet. It followed the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014) from Evil Hat, and was meant to complement those books.

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