In the “Good Old Days” the game company TSR had its flag ship, D&D, but owning the world’s first roleplaying game made them the de facto authority and they used that to promote other systems. The first game I owned was Gamma World (the second edition from 1983), sure my first game was Moldvay Basic, but my brother owned that I just got to borrow the books. The games we played the most were D&D, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret. And we bought those games because they were from the makers of Dungeons and Dragons, TSR made D&D so in our minds they were the authority on roleplaying games.
I had seen Palladium and Tunnels and Trolls systems growing up, but they looked like cheap D&D knockoffs to a kid like me, If D&D was Transformers, they were GoBots. I can’t remember ever seeing Traveler or Call of Cthulhu or Warhammer other than in adds. I do remember see Runequest, but the Ducks soured me on taking that game serious. I would have loved to play Twilight 2000, Red Dawn holding such a treasured place in my childhood, but it was not something my brother or I would risk spending our hard earned money on when it could be used for a TSR product instead. We put our trust in TSR.
I think the first non TSR game that I played was Shadowrun sometime around 1989. I know my brother and his friends played Cyberpunk, but I was never invited to those sessions. Once I embraced Shadowrun I had broken the chains of TSR, and went on to play numerous games by numerous companies in the 1990’s. But TSR was still making more than one game, I never played Alternity more than once (I didn’t like the system) but I know people who did, I bought the Amazing Engine system books and still would like a chance to play Bug Hunter. Fasa was making Shadowrun and Earthdawn, West End Game had Star Wars and Torg, White Wolf had a whole range of games. Companies put out multiple games using multiple systems.
So what happened? Why does WOTC just make D&D and Pazio just make Pathfinder?
WOTC had the license for Star Wars and judging by the price of the books online it is still semi popular and they made D20 Modern, but both of those were just reskinned 3.5 edition D&D not unique systems. The D&D 4e spin off for Gama World got decent reviews, but I never purchased it (The gonzo style of Gama World probably fit the zany power system of 4e better than a fantasy game, but that is only my opinion). Top Secret, Alternity, Amazing Engine, Marvel Superheroes, didn’t use the D&D mechanics they were their own game. WOTC has not tried to make another game system just houserule the current version of D&D to other settings.
Pazio has done even less. They have Pathfinder, a very extensive house ruled version of 3.5*. Personally I think Pazio has the following to at least attempt to design an original game. They make very attractive books and have a large following. The Pathfinder Basic Box was an amazing product, so good I have a sealed box waiting to give to my children someday to introduce them to Role-Playing. Why haven’t they tried to make something original? Craft a system, build an adventure path around it, and see if it sells. People love adventure paths (I hate them but I see the appeal), so why not make a post-apocalyptic quest through a broken southwest or a high adventure space opera? Build a system not based on d20 to run more modern settings and see what happens.
Why do I care? I am just curious. The mussing above are directly related to my own gamer ADD. as I put finishing touches on the Peril and Plunder: Appendix One Sample Patrons I keep thinking about crafting a simple western game to run as a one-shot. I will stay focused; I just wonder how Pazio and WOTC can put out the same game year after year.