Monday, December 30, 2013

Obsolete Simulations Roundup: Fringeworthy


Fringeworthy
Exploring the Pathways to Infinity

One person in 100,000 have that unknown quality that makes them 'Fringeworthy.' You are one of them. These are your adventures...



Fringeworthy was first published back in 1982. I picked up my copy at the Little Tin Soldier shop on University Avenue in St. Paul after it was recommended to me by one of the shop's staff who was familiar with my writing efforts. We would discuss our respective writing projects and our respective gaming experiences fairly regularly. Those were good times. In any case, I was writing about gates in my stories and using them in my current campaigns. He handed me the blue covered Fringeworthy book and told me to take a look at it--this guy in Michigan had published a game based on gates. I flipped through the thing prepared to scathingly dismiss it as rubbish. You know how 19-20 year-old writer-gamers can be. Plus I was an artist sending out work to lots of small-press zines at the time. I could get pissy about the art as well. But I didn't. I bought the book.

108 pages. Durable softcover. Large, readable type. Two column lay-out. Packed with random tables (P. 94 has a one-page Alien Design sub-system made-up of random tables that Mr. Raggi might appreciate). There's a character sheet, world sheet and more in the back. This was the total package-deal. This one book was all you needed to go exploring the portals left behind by the Tehrmelern...oh yeah...those guys...

Ahem. More than a million years ago the Tehrmelern civilization established a network of inter-dimensional pathways that spanned time and space. These highly advanced beings explored and colonized and studied millions of worlds for a significant period of time, before they ran into a monstrous, implacable enemy that rapidly wiped-out the Tehrmelern civilization, leaving behind their inter-dimensional network of pathways.

Then, a team of Japanese scientists working in Antarctica discovered one of the ancient Tehrmelern gateways. It was quickly discovered that only a select few people, 1-in-100,000, had what it takes to get the portal to open, or for the ancient alien technology to respond. Those rare individuals became known as 'Fringeworthy,' and there you are. It's a very nice set-up for either a novel or a role-playing game, and in this case it was both. The creator of Fringeworthy, Richard Tucholka, a big Sci-Fi fan, was writing stories set in this universe from back in the seventies. The Fringeworthy setting grew out of his earlier attempts at fiction. There is a strong current of classic science fiction running through this stuff. Sure, the use of gates is nothing new, not by a long shot, and no one with any familiarity with the Sci-Fi of the Golden or Radium Ages would ever take seriously any claim that he 'invented' spinning, round gateways to other dimensions. But what Tucholka did was to make his version both engaging and intriguing, as well as playable. You can quibble about the rules, the lay-out, the typos, etc., etc. and most reviewers have; but the core concepts at the very heart of this game are fun and worthwhile and endlessly intriguing. That's why we see other games like GURPS Alternate Earths, Gatecrasher, Rifts, Torg, Lords of Creation, and so on. None of these games 'invented' this 'gates leading to alternate world/timeline stuff;' even Charles Fort had precursors. But each game, every author, makes the idea of cross-dimensional gatesways over in their own image, and provides a different approach to things. What Tucholka succeeded in creating was an engaging and unique setting. But we'll come back to that.

Fringeworthy is considered by some to be the first alternate history adventure role-playing game ever published. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I can't say. It came out during a time when there were very, very few Sci-Fi rpgs out there, so this may well be true. It is also claimed that Fringeworthy may have helped 'inspire' the Stargate franchise, but this has never been acknowledged that I am aware of, and no lawsuit was filed, so the situation remains a bit murky. Seems like most, if not all, role-playing games tend to have skeletons and potential litigation lurking in their closets, doesn't it? Let's forget the claims and rumors and crap and focus on the game itself.

The first two editions of Fringeworthy featured rules derived in large part from The Morrow Project. This means that the rules for combat were Extremely Simulationist to the point that you could use a copy of Jane's Defense Weekly at the table as an in-game supplement. Hit location. Rate of Fire. Rate of Load. Hydrostatic Shock Modifier. Yeah. If you like guns, this system is very real world. It's also playable. I've played in a game where these rules were used and once you get used to it, especially if you have some ex-military types at the table. But it is not everyone's cup-o-tea, not by a long shot. I found it way too involved and clunky, but there are those gamers who really, really love this sort of crunchiness. So it's a matter of personal preference. A more abstract/simplified option might have been a good idea, but that's second-guessing decades after the fact...

The system used in the early editions of Fringeworthy is pretty much the same base system used in all of Tri-Tac's classic line-up of rpgs like Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic and FTL: 2448. You roll 4d6 and subtract 4 from the result for your character's Characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, Wisdom, Luck, Charisma. Then you roll a d100 and if you get 3 or under, your character has Psionic ability. There are the usual suspects like Hit Points, as well as Crystal Use; your character's ability to use the 'crystal keys' left behind by the Tehrmelern. You get Military Training (well-done on only half a page!), Body-building rules, Skills and Education, and Languages. Each section has examples; snippets from 'The Ed Power Story,' that really help it all make sense. The Difficulty Rating chart on P. 15 is an almost eerie precursor to the D&D 3.x approach, but using percentile dice, not a D20. There's also a Difficulty Randomization chart to change things up each time. The Annoyance chart on p. 16 always gives me a laugh; it's a nice variation on the stock Charisma Reaction roll. There are a lot of charts and things that could be ported over from Fringeworthy to the older editions of the classic game with little to no effort. You could also bring in fantasy characters to liven things up, if that's your thing. So character-building is somewhere between D&D and Traveller, but not as complicated as it might seem at first, and thoroughly old school-ish, meaning things aren't as streamlined, nor as well organized, nor as pretty as more modern rules. There's also not that much unique or special about the rules per se. They're fairly stock rpg rules circa the early Eighties. That probably makes them too clunky or excruciatingly lackluster for non-grognards looking for prose executed with contemporary sensibilities and shiny new mechanics. Most of the prose has the patina of classic Sci-Fi, and the mechanics are pretty old fashioned. So in that respect, this game is probably obsolete. It's a matter of taste, and tolerance. It is not the easiest game to play. Like any rules-set it could have been made better from some editing, revision and better lay-out. So could most new games released in the last year. But that's old news, like these links...

There is an entry at Wikipedia for Fringeworthy that has been sanitized for your protection and comfort (all unverifiable rumors and unsupported claims duly removed). RPG Geek has a review of the First & Second Editions of Fringeworthy, as well as a separate review of the Third Edition, though neither page offers very much information, and there's another page with all of that stuff rolled into an umbrella entry for Fringeworthy that includes the D20 Edtion as well. Grognardia did a nice summary/retrospective back in 2011. Steffan O'Sullivan did a fair review of the Third Edition. There's a slightly more critical review of the 10th Anniversary Edition at RPG.net. There was also a suggestion to fans of the old Sliders show that Fringeworthy could be adapted to play-out adventures in that fictional milieu.

So that takes care of the old, arguably obsolete aspect of the game. Now things get more interesting.

Fringeworthy isn't dead. Tri-Tac is still in business, despite a raid by the FBI back in 1994. Remember what I said up above about the setting of Fringeworthy really being the star of the show? Well, the setting is slowly spreading out into other systems. The game is still alive and well and has been adapted to the D20 Modern rules and there is an effort underway to convert Fringeworthy over to Savage Worlds...though there hasn't been much news on that front for a while now. In any case, there's a page devoted to the various editions of Fringeworthy, and you can still buy a pdf version of any of the editions you might be interested in, so you can slog through the classic version or try out the spiffy new D20-ified version of the rules to your heart's content...or your group's collective threshold for such things.

There's a weekly podcast. There's a slightly quiet Fringeworthy Yahoo Group. There are Forums dedicated to Fringeworthy as well as all things Tri-Tac, and the Tri-Tac website links to quite a few of their old games and a few handy resources.

So...Fringeworthy is not dead. Maybe the folks over at Tri-Tac could use some encouragement to help motivate them to complete work on the Savage Fringeworthy rules. I'm still waiting to see Mr. Tucholka publish his long-gestating Fringeworthy fiction...



The Obsolete Simulations Roundup blog-hop is being hosted by The Savage Afterworld blog. Thanks to Tim Snider for setting this blog-hop into motion!


12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I'd heard of Fringeworthy but never got a chance to play it.

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    1. You're very welcome. It's an interesting game. Converting it over to newer systems might give it a new lease on life.

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  2. Whoo! Fantastic!

    Built a character for this and almost played it once at my old gaming stomping grounds in the 'States. I second the move for a rebirth of the game!

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    1. Yeah, I hope this game gets a second chance to shine, using newer rules. It'd be nice to see it have a renaissance or rebirth.

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  3. Thanks for the review! I've never known someone who 1) owned, 2) read, or 2) played the game before, so the review was quite insightful.

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    1. Funny thing, the guy who ran Fringeworthy converted it over to Traveller or something like that. You could easily replace the system with Mutant Future or something like that. A FATE version might be kind of fun; there were rumors of a FUDGE version in the works, but I couldn't get any real details.

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  4. Interesting. I've heard of this game, but never seen it.

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    1. The earlier editions didn't get much circulation. I think the first edition was 4,000 copies or something like that. It's kind of cool that the Tri-Tac guys are making every edition available in pdf at their site.

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  5. Always loved the Tri Tac stuff and was crazy in love with Fringeworthy -- well, the conceptsanyway as I couldn't get my home group to play it. I'm off to go pick up a "new" (old) copy now! Thanks for participating in the Roundup!

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    1. Getting a group to try new games seems to be a real problem, or at least it has been for a lot of us. I could never get my group to try games besides the usual thing. I'm curious about the D20 version, but will probably look for the Savage Worlds edition. Thanks for hosting the blog-hop. This was fun!

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  6. Played with Richard in playtest back then in Michigan. It was a hoot. The gate that opened into the Phantasm movie world was particularly memorable. We'd already been playing Morrow Project so the mechanics came naturally and he ran games mechanically lighter than he wrote it. The setting would be a good fit for any multigenre system: Savage Worlds, GURPS, or BRP mechanics all come to mind as well as FATE.

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    1. Wow! Very cool. I'm a big fan of the Phantasm movies. That sounds like it would have been a lot of fun. I used to have The Morrow Project. It always read like a more grown-up version of Gammaworld, in a good way. Again, I couldn't get my group at the time to try it out, so I sold all that stuff off. wish I had kept it now. I'm still looking for details regarding the Savage Worlds version/edition, and it might be interesting to see how the setting would open up with FATE. Is Richard still writing? I was always looking for a Fringeworthy novel by him. That'd be very cool.

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