What: Mind’s Eye Theatre, the live-action extension of White Wolf’s Storyteller RPG system, which included the games Vampire: The Masquerade, Changeling, Mage, Wraith, and Werewolf.

Why: On its own, White Wolf’s World of Darkness is the Most Beautiful Roleplaying Game Setting, with its goth-punk vampires and werewolves forming clans across the world. Though the setting makes a perfectly satisfying tabletop RPG, designers Mark Rein·Hagen, Andrew Greenberg, and a host of collaborators pushed the envelope. They removed the table, stripped the Storyteller dice system down to rock-paper-scissors contests, and encouraged people to dress up like their clan. So the Tremere clan member would dress in a natty three-piece, while the brutish Gangrel would distress a leather jacket and a studded collar. More importantly, the guys in Stone Mountain created a real-world organization called The Camarilla, which placed actual players at the heads of vampire societies all over the world. Chicago’s organization looked and acted different than Seattle’s, and people were expected to give fealty when they crossed borders.

Impact: The Mind’s Eye Theatre gatherings in every city revitalized roleplaying and made it cool, at least among a certain subset of the population. It made going to a game convention a feast for the eyes. And most significantly, it perceptibly altered the gender balance of roleplaying, drawing in hundreds of thousands of female gamers with its emphasis on style and freedom of movement. Before 1991, these players would not have come to a con, I expect (note the fangs).

Personal Connection: I just returned from Gen Con, the RPG mecca. At the request of , I presented one of the prestigious ENnie Awards, for best rules. Onstage, I described my upcoming article for on my favorite rules, including Mind’s Eye Theatre‘s rule for “obfuscation.” The game faced the thorny challenge of characters with invisibility, and needed a way to tell players who could see other players that they couldn’t. So White Wolf came up with the amazing, brilliant, and innovative solution of having the player cross his arms in front of his chest. For years I would show my unending respect for this innovation by walking directly into anyone with their arms crossed, and saying, “Sorry, man, I just didn’t see you.” For some reason, they never seemed to understand how much respect I was throwing their way. (Word for word from my speech. It got a huge laugh, especially from the White Wolf guys.)

Other Contenders: Final Fantasy VII, the best installment of the best console roleplaying series (I wanna chocobo!); Call of Cthulhu, the tabletop RPG in which you almost certainly will be eaten or go insane; the original Traveller, in which you could die in character generation; Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, the best hack-&-slash computer RPG; Paranoia 2nd Edition, where you are a hapless clone in a dystopian Alpha Complex, and the Computer is your friend; a once-again-ridiculously-biased nod to 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons (though that could change when I play 4E).