Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Golden Age of RPG’s: Paranoia, M.E.R.P., and Jorune

Flipping through the old Dragon magazines from the days of my youth, I’m shocked by how many oddball products the market could support back then.  My there was some freaky stuff:


I’ve never played this game, but I am comforted to know that it existed.  Just having advertisers like West End Games made Dragon magazine fun to pick up.  You know, I probably didn’t get involved with Paranoia for much the same reason I didn’t buy the original Illuminati in black pocket boxes: the covers.  Illuminati had one of the most frightening images my little 12 year old mind had ever seen… and Paranoia was just so flagrantly in-your-face ice-cold satirically intimidating that I just knew I was no where near savvy enough or cynically witty enough to play that game.  The guys that made that game had to be so tough-minded and sophisticated, I knew I’d never be able to keep up with them.

I did see a new version of Paranoia at a game store recently.  What a waste!  I mean… first off they called it “Paranoia XP.”  Did they really name it after a Microsoft product?  Argh!  I spend too much of the day staring into Microsoft product of some sort or another.  You think my down time is going to be spent with a game that has a that vibe anywhere on it?  I think they even went so far as to put a caricatureof Bill Gates on the cover.  Sheesh.  They had to take one of the most densely packed conglomerations of distilled coolness… and wrap it in some lame lampooning of the guy every Linux zealot loves to hate.  That’s just so petty.

Here’s probably one of the most unusual games I’ve ever seen.  The photos of the box covers didn’t scan so well, but here’s their banner:

Wow!  You should see the cover art, though.  It’s almost like some sort of Renaissance painting or something.  You have these humans that look almost like old paintings of Ancient Greece or Biblical characters… and they’re intermixed with some of the most truly alien creatures I’ve ever seen.  I was obviously too immature to play a game with such an air of depth and scope.  Ah… the Skyrealms of Jorune… I’d love to see an actual copy now that I’m old enough to appreciate it.

I love this one.  There’s just been so few companies to get ahold of a Tolkien license and then actually treat it with the respect it deserves.  This image is awesome: probably the high point of the Lord of the Rings right there….  You know, if you look at all of the references to the creature the ring wraiths rode on, it’s not quite clear if it’s a reptile-pterodactyl type thing or if it’s a bird of some kind.  This image is so respectful of the source material, that it somehow manages to capture that ambiguity.  Too cool.

I hadn’t read enough Tolkien at the time to appreciate such radness… and besides… the advertisement subtly gives the message that this not some stupid hack-and-slash beer-and-pretzles game.  They give the impression that playing such a cool game would be a serious commitment.  I’d have had to give up Car Wars or something and that just wasn’t going to happen…!

A nifty post about the makers of MERP is over here at The Lost Level.  He talks about a set of articles detailing the history of nearly a dozen rpg companies.  Go read up on ’em and maybe you can put together a case that the eighties really wasn’t the Golden Age my nostalgic old self thinks it was.  I doubt it, though… the CCG and MMORPG induced crashes we’ve seen since then have done to much damage to make me think otherwise.


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