#RPGaDay 2017 – Day 11

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This post is a part of the #RPGaDAY series for 2017 by David F. Chapman and RPGBrigade. For more information, see this post at AUTOCRATIK. I'm modifying per suggestions from S. John Ross as well as applying my own interpretations. Comment with your answers or links to your own posts!


Day 11 - Which "dead game" would you like to see reborn?

In order to interpret this question, I need to first examine what is meant by a "dead game." I can't see a game itself dying, or being dead, as long as someone is thinking about it or remembering it, let alone playing it, and so I can't imagine that under those circumstances this question could ever be answered. (I mean, if I would like to see it reborn, I haven't let it die.) I at first was going to interpret "dead game" as "game without publisher support," but even games that have long since gone out of print and survive packed away in basements or attics can still be purchased officially in electronic form more often than not. So I'm going to go more in the direction of "without any active development." The specifics of the definition aren't important, though, to me. I think we have a "feel" for what could be a "dead game," and I'm taking this question as an opportunity to dust off and talk about an old favorite. My pick is Underground by Ray Winninger, published by Mayfair Games in 1993. As the link indicates, you can still purchase the game today in PDF, but I consider it mostly consigned to the dusty shelves of memory; very few people are talking about this one anymore.

Underground was totally captivating to me back in the day. It was an intensely well-presented satire; much of the core book and supplements leaned heavily on "in-character" writing, which to be honest is not something I'm much into these days, but it was a technique well-used for this game. Some of the writing in it sticks with me even today. It was a very different take on the near future from what was my normal diet at the time: basically all those cyberpunk neon dystopias. Underground presented an absurdist projection of "current" America through the lens of alien futuretech. But alien futuretech had nothing to do with the game; it was all part of the backstory. The game itself was...I guess you could call it kind of a dark supers game? But sociopolitical. It was groundbreaking for me back then by having introduced mechanics that meant the characters could affect the campaign world, sliding little meters around which determined what kinds of problems were at the forefront. The campaign setting gave you a starting point (and what a starting point it was), but once you started the home game, you knew it was yours to keep. The supplements were evocative and kept a consistent tone; I felt that they enhanced and solidified the core game, instead of spreading it out and diluting it like many game line supplements tend to do. The game system was...complex. It didn't seem particularly broken, but there was a steep learning curve. You really had to want it. I honestly got more out of the game setting and writing than I did the mechanics.

This is far from a unique choice for this day's question, particularly in the crowd in which I run. A lot of wishes for an Underground reboot, though, seemed to involve two main pillars. One, a modern reboot of the setting based on what is happening in the world today, and hoo boy, would is that a task in and of itself. As has become distressingly evident in looking back on a lot of dystopian satire from back when, we have in a lot of ways become what we feared. So much so, that I don't think a modern reading of the classic Underground setting would elicit as much of a "absurdism" response as it did 25 years ago. It's a tall order, but it's what I'd want to see from a reboot. The second pillar, though, is a call for a modernized system, and this is where I part ways with some of my compatriots. I liked that the system was tough. Part of the appeal of this game for me was the fact that, although it was wrapped in a lot of supers flavor, this was not a game about superheroes. This was a game mostly about fucked up people who had extra power basically thrust upon them and were now no longer appreciated, or even welcome. It's not a game about heroism or derring-do, as the Fate system might imply. I don't think this was a game you should want to get creative in. You have a list of powers to choose from, and they each work a certain way. You have a list of problems, and they work a certain way. I think what was important to the feel of the game was its oppressiveness -- its lack of choices. You're supposed to feel trapped, or at least put upon. Betrayed. The problems you face shouldn't be easy ones to solve if they can't be solved in a supersoldier way. Because you're a supersoldier, and that's all you are. That's why you're out of place now. The darkness of the game held a lot of the appeal for the kinds of stories I thought you could tell with the game, and I don't think that would be served by improving the mechanics to something newer and sleeker and more modern. This is one of those games where I think the sensation of fighting the system is perfectly appropriate, because the system's fighting you. I'd want to have that relationship preserved in a new edition.

As a final note, I'll relay some very exciting news that I was exposed to today as a direct result of this #RPGaDay question and the number of other people who chose Underground as their answer. Apparently the original designer is working on a new edition right now! That's incredibly exciting to me, and I can't wait to see what's going to come of it. It's an #RPGaDay miracle!

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