A history of the Brazilian RPG Scene

I first published this article back in 2014. I decided to rewrite the original post with some better English language skills after 5 years of learning, and a summary of […]

I first published this article back in 2014. I decided to rewrite the original post with some better English language skills after 5 years of learning, and a summary of the last five years in the Brazilian RPG scene as I know it. Enjoy.

The 1990’s

RPG’s have been in Brazil since the 1980’s, but only as imports in foreign languages, with the first books in Portuguese coming out in 1991. In that year both the Fighting Fantasy series and GURPS were translated into Portuguese, and Tagmar was published, being the first original RPG game from Brazil. Tagmar was a fantasy game inspired by The Lord of the Rings series and enjoyed a good run with a line of steady accessories until GSA Publishing went bankrupt in 1997.

In 1992 came O Desafio dos Bandeirantes (The Challenge of the Bandeirantes¹), also from GSA Publishing, which was a historic/fantasy mixed setting that took place in a fantasy version of colonial Brazil, circa 1650, with pajés², Jesuits, babalorixás³ and bandeirantes. Just as Tagmar it also gets a good run of accessories until the end of GSA in 1997.

In 1994 Vampire: The Masquerade was published in Brazil and became a HUGE success, bringing tens of thousands of new players and starting a “boom” of RPG publishing in the country. At the same year Paranoia was also been published and welcomed here and in 1995 five new Brazilians games came into life: DEMOS Corporation, Monstros, Millenia, Defensores de Tóquio and Arkanun.

DEMOS Corporation was an espionage game famous for being extremely complicated. Legend says that its authors were engineers and enjoyed math too much, so parts of the game system were explained in mathematical formulas (!) and its intent was to have been played with a scientific calculator preloaded with them!

Monstros (“Monsters”) was a satirical game, where the players took the role of monsters that fought adventurers and captured princesses, set in a generic fantasy world. Millenia was a sci-fi game, set a millenium into the future, with humanity just getting back on its feet after a Dark Age when we are slaves to an alien race. All these three were ill fated and only got their core books, but that was different with Defensores de Tóquio and Arkanun.

Defensores de Tóquio (“Defenders of Tokyo”) was another satirical game, this time making fun of anime, which started to make success in Brazil during the 90’s. The game was a huge success with tens of thousands of copies sold and ended up becoming a generic system for anime-inspired settings. It is still in publication, now in its 8th edition, called Defensores de Tóqui Alpha.

Arkanun was a historical terror/fantasy game set in the middle ages, with players taking the role of humans fighting against “demons” that are trying to invade our reality to escape their own doomed dimension. It was a success and got dozens of accessories and other games based on it, like Trevas (“Darkness”), which is set in the modern times of the setting showed at Arkanun. It lost steam in the end of the 00’s, but recently a new company has bought its license and has promised a new edition of the game (actually, the same day this article came out in 2014, the company announced the cancellation of the project).

Following the amazing success of Vampire, the biggest publishing companies in Brazil decided that RPG would be a cultural phenomenon and started a huge investment in it to dominate the market. Abril Group, the biggest publishing corporation in Brazil, took the rights for AD&D. They started the line with First Quest, an introductory AD&D game, in 1995. Ediouro, another big name, started their charge with Shadowrun also in 1995. Devir, the publisher responsible for bringing GURPS and Vampire to Brazil, invested in Cyberpunk 2020 in that same year. Abril then released AD&D three core books in 1996.

Legend says they printed over one hundred thousand of each core book of AD&D. The game is said to have sold tens of thousands of copies, but not even close to the hundreds of thousands in the timetable that Abril was expecting. To cut their losses they sold the rights and the huge stockpile of core books to Devir, which followed up in publishing the line until the 3rd edition came out. Even today, almost 25 years after the release, those copies of AD&D core books can still be found in every convention stores, still new in the plastic, at dozens or even hundreds.

Ediouro also pulled back from the RPG market and sold their rights and stockpile of Shadowrun books to Devir. They continued to sell the remaining Shadowrun books, but decided to cut investment back in face of financial trouble (they just bought two huge stockpiles of books to sell and their Cyberpunk 2020 had also not done well, after all).

Still in 1996 comes Invasão (“Invasion”) a sci-fi game where the players took the role of government agents and conspiracy theorists fighting a secret invasion of two species of aliens, the metalians and the traktonians, the setting was the same of the Brazilian novel Espada da Galáxia (“Sword of the Galaxy”) and a bunch of comic books series written by Marcelo Cassaro, and were kept running way into the 2000’s, with its last edition being released in 2004.

1997 made way for two new Brazilian games: Era do Caos e SIGNUS RPG. The first was a cyberpunk-horror setting that showed a Brazil of the future as a failed state with enormous socioeconomic problems which had put society into anarchy and chaos. On top of that, supernatural beings from horror stories from Brazilian folklore were real and out to hunt you down. It had gotten three accessories before its publishing house closed doors in the early 2000’s. SIGNUS RPG was a generic RPG system like GURPS and did not make much success, being rapidly forgotten.

In 1998, Devir released Castle Falkenstein and a series of other little minor indie games, like Baron Munchausen, TOON and Mulheres Machonas Armadas Até os Dentes (“Macho Woman Armed to the Teeth”, I guess…). In addition, in 1999 the RPG magazine Dragão Brasil, which was operating since 1994, released Tormenta, a fantasy campaign setting with rules for GURPS, AD&D and Defensores de Tóquio 3rd edition, as a promotional gift along with the 50th edition of the magazine. That, along with the following releases of titles for previous games we have already talked about, wrapped up the 1990’s. The decade finished with D&D 3rd edition coming up in 2000, which would define most of the 2000’s in Brazil as well as in the rest of the world.

The 2000’s

With D&D 3rd edition and its OGL and d20 System License, many companies in Brazil decided to take a chance and publish d20 related material. That provided a steady line of d20-related titles coming out until 2008 when D&D 4th edition came out and the d20 System License was cancelled. Tormenta, the national fantasy campaign setting released the year before by Dragão Brasil, which had rapidly become a huge success in sales, soon got a d20 edition and became the most popular d20 campaign setting in Brazil, outselling the official D&D campaign settings translated by Devir.

Despite the boom of d20-related titles, there was still a market for new games, the fist being A Lenda de Kalahad, from 2000. A medieval fantasy setting, the game did not make much success, but manage to survive with the help of the internet until today. Next is Calíope, from 2001, another medieval fantasy game that was unable to get far.

Utopia, from 2003, was able to get a good run as the main system for Mitsukai Publishing campaign settings, until the company disappeared after a series of polemic fights in court and outside of it (explaining all that would need an article of its own!).

In 2004 there were two new titles: Angus RPG and OPERA RPG. Angus RPG was the adaptation of the popular historical fiction series of novels Angus, and was famous for being extremely unbalanced and utterly bad. A common joke about the system was about the fact that a simple cow was able to deal more damage than a legendary warrior was, thus a farmer with some cows was more dangerous than a general with an army was, what may explain why the game actually figured a farmer character class! OPERA RPG was a generic system and was used in a lot of campaign settings published throughout the 2000’s. It reached a moderate success and still has fans up to this day.

The next year then brought three new games: Nexus D6, RPG Quest and Primeira Aventura. Nexus D6 was an independent game, with little impact on the market, which was sold at an event and then released in the internet for free. RPG Quest was a different deal, rapidly becoming a huge success; it was a mixture of an RPG and a board game meant to bring new blood to the hobby. It only ended because the distribution system used by it was bought by a corporation whose owners decided to change the rules of distribution, crushing most of the newspaper stands-based RPG distribution system of the time. Primeira Aventura (“First Adventure”) was an OGL fantasy game made to be an introductory game into the hobby, but also with the ambition to replace D&D 3rd Edition at some point. Primeira Aventura had  a couple of adventures books published for it but was abandoned in favor of Tormenta RPG three years later. By 2007 the game Might Blade was released as a generic fantasy system, very similar to D&D, and continued to receive support to this day.

The 4th edition of D&D that came out in 2008 faced mostly disregard in Brazil as news came in about the restricted GSL and very different rules from the 3rd edition. The companies that invested in the d20 brand either abandoned it or invested in new systems using the OGL, much like Paizo did with its Pathfinder RPG in the USA.So, in 2010, as the decade got to an end, two new titles came out using the OGL Paizo-style: Tormenta RPG and Old Dragon. Tormenta RPG was, obviously, the game of the popular campaign setting launched in 1999 by Dragão Brasil magazine (oh, wait, an OGL game made by former editors and authors of an RPG magazine, where have I seen this before?). It was a huge success and was more popular in Brazil than D&D 4th edition, translated by Devir, with a steady line of accessories. Old Dragon was a little different. Though it uses the OGL, it was more of a retro-clone of AD&D than of the 3rd edition, and going for this feeling of nostalgia they also had a huge success in sells.

New games also came in, as if sensing blood in the water from dissatisfied D&D fans, with Dragon Age RPG being released in 2010 and Mutants & Masterminds in 2008, both by by Jambô Publishing.

The 2010’s

While Tormenta RPG and Old Dragon were selling by the thousands, two small revolutions happened that would define this first half of the decade: small print runs and Kickstarter. While in the 1990’s and 2000’s a small company had to have a minimum of two thousand copies print to reach a good unit cost ratio, by 2011 it was possible to obtain a good one with print runs of even less than one hundred copies. With all the Kickstarter-like websites that opened in the country, it was also possible to know in advance if a game would have good acceptance with the public. That lowered the risk of investment, and companies and independent authors were now able to test new experimental games and unseen genres. Something just as important was the game design competitions that began taking roots in this decade, revealing new authors and games that wouldn’t be known or made otherwise.

The first sons of that change are Busca Final (“Final Quest”) and Violentina, the last one being successfully financed in Kickstarter in 2011. Both are narrative games, the first being about a quest to bring back magic to a fantasy world that lost it, and the second about stories of ultra-violence inspired by Tarantino movies. Both had innovative systems and settings, and provided a taste of what was to come. At the same year Terra Devastada (“Wasteland”), a game about surviving the zombie apocalypse, was released and it sold well and is now on a path to become a card game (note from 2019: it didn’t worked out).

Not only national games benefited from these changes, but the translated ones as well. Brazilian editions of Trail of Cthulhu, 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, Fiasco and Shotgun Diaries all came out in 2011. Shotgun Diaries was a curious case. The original version published by John Wick was only a PDF of 18 pages, with a simple design and close to none illustrations. The Brazilian version was sold inside a metal box that came with a 20 page book, next to a hundred tokens used in the game, six dices and a CD with a soundtrack that include zombies sounds, emergency alert system recordings, etc. In 2011 also came out the only third party product for D&D 4th Edition in Brazil, the Ohmtar campaign setting, which was cancelled in 2013 after the 4th edition, well, had been announced dead to the world.

By 2012 the explosion of titles continued: Dust Devils was translated, and Abismo Infinito, Space Dragon and O Reino de Bhundamidão were national games released that year. Abismo Infinito (“Infinity Abyss”) was a horror game about astronauts that remain in cryogenic sleep for so long that, once they wake up, they can no longer separate reality from dream and start going crazy. Space Dragon was a sci-fi game based on the game system of Old Dragon, the setting is based on the sci-fi books, shows and movies from the 50’s. Finally, O Reino de Bhundamidão (“The Realm of Asstheygiveme”?) was a satiric fantasy game with bad puns.

2013 saw Game of Thrones RPG, Blood and Honor, The One Ring, Savage Worlds, Monsterhearts (the publishing house sold the game in pre-order, but never delivered it as far as I know) and Dungeon World on the translated front and Pulse and UED United Earth Defense on the national titles front. Pulse was a game about creation and confirmation of hypothesis, with settings including time travel, futuristic crime investigation and more (the author himself said this was wrong, but didn’t explain what was wrong with it), and UED United Earth Defense is a game set in a post-apocalypse Earth where aliens have invaded and wiped out most of humanity three hundred years ago, and since then the planet had entered an Ice Age. It’s a game about survival and the search for hope in a desperate situation.

The last five years summary

So, we reached the end of the original article back in 2014. What happened since then? Well, let’s see. In 2015 we had Iron Kingdoms RPG by Jambô Publishing, which didn’t make as much success as its d20 version did in Brazil and since then it had few accessories published for it, The Legend of the Five Rings, The Strange and 13th Age by New Order Publishing, both of which have gained a few titles since then, Fate by Solar Games, who made a successful kickstarter for it and delivered as promised, Star Wars: Edge if the Empire by Galapagos, The Call of Cthulhu by Terra Incognita Publishing and finally Pathfinder RPG by Devir.

The national games also saw a few titles in 2015. I published my own Cosa Nostra RPG in 2015 as well, a narrative game about the Mafia, but it didn’t do too well despite a successful kickstarter campaign (the story of how I lost money in that project is worth telling someday, if only so people can avoid my mistakes). There was Crônicas RPG, a generic fantasy RPG, by New Order Publishing, Medievo, a independent game set in a supernatural version of the Low Middle Ages and A Fita, a horror game published by Retropunk Publishing.

In 2016 we saw the arrival of 7th Sea, Kuro, Numenera and the return of Shadowrun to Brazil by New Order Publishing, Icons by Redbox Publishing, Shadow of the Demonlord and Mutant: Year Zero by Pensamento Coletivo Publishing and Psy*Run by Secular Games.

The national scene saw the arrival of Cidade Neon, SIJOR, Foices e Feitiços, Deloyal, Ghaluni RPG, BIRL Planeta Monstro, Atisi RPG and Desafiantes. Cidade Neon is a game about pulp detective stories, while SIJOR, Foices e Fetiços (Scythes and Spells) and Ghaluni RPG are generic fantasy systems. BIRL Planeta Monstro (“BIRL Monster Planet”) is a… thing? Its actually a game based around a popular Brazilian internet meme about bodybuilders or something? Its very weird, but some people like weird. Atisi RPG is an Ancient Egypt setting for the game Barbarians of Lemuria, which was never launched in Brazil (but had a publishing house buying its rights but never going off the ground), it had the rule system within it, so it didn’t matter. Desafiantes was a game about underground boxing and the hard life of the fighters in that world. Finally, Deloyal was a game set in the city of Deloyal, which seems to be a version of Paris under Nazi occupation, where the players take on the role of resistance fighters against the occupation forces.

After the fourteen new games of 2016, the next year was a lot calmer with only three (there was a lot of accessories for games already on the market). Redbox published Classroom Deathmatch in the translation front, and the nationals were Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by New Order Publishing and Espadas Afiadas & Feitiços Sinistros (“Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells”) by Pensamento Coletivo Publishing, both being generic retro-clones of D&D.

In 2018, Brazil got four new games. A Penny for My Thoughts by Redbox in the translated front, and Goddess Save the Queen by Redbox, Belregard by New Order Publishing and Império de Jade by Jambô Publishing. Goddess Save the Queen is a adventure game set in the 1920s where the players took the role of the woman of a division of the British Empire secret service. Belregard is a horror game about fanaticism, and Império de Jade is a off-shot of Tormenta RPG focused in oriental adventures, it has a new take on the rules that is rumored to form the basis for a unconfirmed new edition of Tormenta RPG in the works.

¹ Bandeirante is the member of a Bandeira, an expedition meant to explore the interior of colonial Brazil searching for gold, slaves and/or anything of valor, besides planting the flag (“Bandeira”) on new territories and claim it for Portugal. Despite being little more than groups of raiding slavers, those expeditions are responsible for most of Portuguese inland expansion in Brazil and were romanticized as daring explorers in the late 19th and early 20th century when Brazilian national identity was formed in literature.

² A pajé is a spiritual leader and healer of some Brazilian indigenous tribes.

³ A badalorixá is a priest of the Candomblé and other related Afro-Brazilian religions practiced by the slaves captured in Africa and used in the sugar farms of the 16th and 17th century Brazil.

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About Nume Finório

João Paulo Francisconi, entre outras enormes perdas de tempo, é blogueiro há dez anos, escreveu para a finada Dragon Slayer, publicou alguns livros de RPG e assistiu quatro episódios de Punho de Ferro.