The Greatest Out-of-Print Tabletop RPGs That We Still Love

A lot of our love for tabletop games comes down to nostalgia. A game we played in the 80s might have terrible rules and a hackneyed game world, but we love it all the same. Sadly, many of those classic RPGs are long out of print. Here's a look at the best of these lost games.

Out of print is a slippery term these days, with plenty of older games living on in PDF form. Certainly a clever seeker could turn up a PDF copy of even the most obscure game manual with enough effort. For our purposes, "out of print" specifically refers to games that are not available in official form from the legal publisher in any form, print or electronic.

Arduin Grimoire

Let's start in the distant past of RPGs. Arduin Grimoire was created as a sort of unofficial supplement to Dungeons & Dragons, adding new races, magic spells and other modular systems. There was even some copyright controversy, resolved with a bottle whiteout. The Arduin setting had its own distinct flavour, and the unforgiving rules earned the game fans as well. The primitive art carries a lot of charm.


Paranoia

There are no other games or settings quite like Paranoia. Players must survive within the rigid (and constantly changing) laws set by the Computer, which rules over a future society living in a giant dome. It's tense and brutal, but at the same time it's filled with slapstick humour and over the top action scenes, a blend that's hard to describe and amazing to experience. Paranoia's out of print status is a little vague — Mongoose Publishing seems to have pulled the latest edition from both print and PDF sale, but nothing official has been announced, as far as I can tell. Update: Industry sources told me off the record there may be some developments with Paranoia in the coming months.


Star Wars D6

West End Games produced the first Star Wars RPG in 1987, and it's the game most frequently cited when I asked people about their favourite OOP games. It uses a D6 system (originally developed for a Ghostbusters RPG) that lots of gamers and game designers admire. In the roughly ten years of its life, the Star Wars RPG spawned over 100 adventures and sourcebooks and even an ongoing magazine. A lot of the expanded universe is actually based on material first created for this game.


Marvel Superheroes

You'll often hear this game referred to as "FASERIP," an acronym for the game's seven basic attributes. Nostalgia is a huge factor here, as the system itself isn't really all that great. But my memories of the game (and those of thousands of other 80s gamers) are tied to that brilliant looking "Universal Results Table," and the little paper fold-up miniatures.


Marvel SAGA

It's actually quite difficult for a game to fall entirely out of print today. The ease of on demand printing and PDF storefronts, not to mentioned Kickstarters breathing new life into once forgotten games means almost everything is still available somewhere. The exceptions tend to be games tied to licensed intellectual properties, like Star Wars and Marvel comics. Once the licence has been purchased by a new publisher, it ensures that the old versions of the game can no longer be printed or supported. It's why Green Ronin's decision to base their DC RPG on the pre-existing Mutants & Masterminds system is so brilliant.

This explains why Marvel SAGA is the second Marvel licensed RPG on this list (I could have added Margaret Weis Productions' Marvel Heroic as well, which became out of print very recently). It's an innovative game that uses no dice, with players drawing from a deck of cards to create characters and resolve battles. This is one of my favourite RPGs of all time simple because the system is so unique and the cards allow the GM to turn up unpredictable circumstances that mirror the plot turns of a comic book.


Dragonlance SAGA

The Marvel SAGA game was based on a system created for the Dragonlance Fifth Age RPG. While both SAGA games are quite rare and expensive, the Dragonlance one is particularly hard to find. I still have yet to see a copy in person, although for some reason the price has come down in the last few years. I'm looking forward to playing this one someday, even though some reviewers at the time felt the magic system was clunky and the published adventures unplayable.


DragonQuest

I hadn't heard of this gem, so I asked game designer Jonathan Lavallee why he remembers it so fondly. "Mostly the backlash rules for magic. Figuring out ways to work around them, and the fact that it made magic really risky," he told me. I have to assume the amazing art didn't hurt. It looks like Cracked Magazine mad a fantasy RPG, and that is not a criticism.


Chill

This is another personal favourite that no one else mentioned. But I will always love Chill. I played the second edition, from Mayfair Games, and we used it to recreate the X-Files with our own team of agents investigating supernatural events. I'm pretty sad that I missed the first edition, which featured supplements narrated by Elvira. Because everything is 13 times as awesome when you add Elvira.

Honorable Mentions

There are a few beloved games that almost made this list, but turned out to actually be in print in some format or another. Steve Jackson Games offers PDF versions of Toon, for instance, and Tales from the Floating Vagabond had a successful reboot via Kickstarter . Talislanta, meanwhile, is free digitally from the publisher. Every book, every edition. Deadlands has a current edition and classic editions are still supported, while Amber Diceless continues to exist in a sort of PDF limbo (although the system was recently licensed for an original setting).

Do you have any favourite hard to find RPGs that didn't make the list?


Comments

    Nice list - I played a couple of the ones mentioned, and hadn't heard of a couple.

    I was going to add Twilight:2000, but some googling shows its still available as a PDF. Great worldbuilding and character creation, but a pretty clunky system.

    Hero Quest!

    Canibalised my old copy and had to re-buy it a few years back. Worth every penny. I play it with my kids from time to time. I wish I had some of the expansion modules though...

      Haha I thought I'd be the only one who mentioned that game. Wonder what happened to mine...

        I have to ask... Are you people confusing the HeroQuest roleplaying game (narrativist, Glorantha-setting) with the HeroQuest boardgame by MB?

          Speaking for myself...yes there's a distinct possibility lol

    It looks like Chill has a 3rd edition that is available as a hardcover Print on Demand on Drive Thru RPG. http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/148433/Chill-Third-Edition

    I use DriveThru for all my World of Darkness books. It takes a while to ship, but is totally worth it.

    It might still be in print but yeah, RIFTS is pretty great in a busted sort of way. Great setting, poorly written rules

      Oh God the Palladium system is... terrible. I just wish Palladium would get of the Robotech licence so that we can have a Robotech RPG that uses a rule set that has been created or revised sometime after the 80s.

      Rifts continues to be published, and the property just got released using the Savage Worlds system.

        Wow, didn't know about this. Will have to see what the Savage Worlds rule set is like

      Agreed. There was a Kickstarter that uses the rules Savage Worlds.

    I used to adore the Vampire series when I was a teenager/early 20something. It's honestly amazing how many people were into that in the late 90s early 2000s in Brisbane? O_o

    Of course every fucker wanted to be dressed up as Blade in the game, that didn't help lol.

      Yeah me too. I'm a Brisbane guy and Vampire was definitely played alot

      PDF collection still available on Humble Bundle for another day if you're feeling nostalgic:

      https://www.humblebundle.com/books/vampire-masquerade-rpg-bundle

    I'd add In Nomine to that list, it was a great RPG setting.

    As a crazy collector, player, and writer (very occasional) of so many RPGs for over three and half decades (good lord) I think I can comment with some sense of perspective..

    For starters, damn fine to see Paranoia and Deadlands in the list.

    Bunnies & Burrows. Seriously whether the original or the GURPS implementation this game is a wild and crazy challenge. The GM has had enough. You have no spells. You have no magic. You have no +3 two-handed sword with autofire lightning bolt. You're a damn rabbit, and a dog is loose in the warren. Deal with it.

    Swordbearer. Combining both the best features of RPG design of its time and years ahead in some concepts, Swordbearer was the first game to have a Status statistic removed the need to count coins. It as free of character classes, but had "spheres of activity". It had a magical system based on pure essence of elements, and a humour magic for psychic magic - which could be gained by sacrificing living creatures. The combat system was fast, deadly, and detailed. The GMs advice section was among the best. Great game, much neglected.

    Space 1889: Whilst the three completely different task resolution systems were terrible (well, one was workable), this game had an absolutely awesome setting of Victorian-era spacefaring with Victorian-era assumptions of how space travel may have worked, mixed in with the outrageous imperialist attitudes that would eventually lead to WWI.

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