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I'm a fan of pen-and-paper RPG's. That's what you are going to find on this site. Sometimes there might be a blurb about the Secret World MMO; but the focus here is my drifting through Wisconsin's gaming communities.

Links will be added as cons are visited, games are played, and authoring is published.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ear II, Part 4: Big Brothers, Big Sisters...

The year is 1984.

On a personal note, it was on this year that I graduated high school. My final school project was a report: The History of Gaming. The word arduous comes to mind. That word could also be cast at the mindset of Gygax in having to manage TSR in this year. Internal issues between Gygax and the Blume brothers came to a head this year, after the Blumes drove TSR into more than one million dollars debt. Working with Flint Dille, Gygax arranged a meeting with Dille’s sister Lorraine Williams; who eventually came to manage TSR, after the Blumes were released. The Blumes sold their (majority) stock of TSR to Williams, who now became the leading stockholder over the company. Although a financial planner who found a great deal of potential in the debt-laden TSR, it was reported that Williams was also a non-gamer who considered gamers to be ‘beneath’ her.

DOAH!!! Things that I missed!
Aftermath! Published in 1981 by Fantasy Games Unlimited. Where players explore a post-apocalyptic world (usually a scorched earth, but virtually any ‘world’ may be used).
Archworld by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1977 was a campaign strategy battle simulator.
Bunnies & Burrows inspired by Watership Down and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1976.
Flash Gordon (1977)
Villains and Vigilantes 1979 first ed, 1982 second ed. 2010 third ed (Monkey House games faced litigation).
Space Maries (wargame) by FanTac Games 1977 and then Fantasy Games Unlimited 1980
Swordbearer 1982 by Heritage Games

…and now back to our story.
Greyhawk slows down, as internal issues with both TSR publishing and Gary Gygax’s efforts in Hollywood making production of new products too much of a challenge.

Marvel Superheroes, TSR, based upon a custom system using two primary game mechanics. First was the ‘column shift’ when someone is doing an extremely hard or easy action. The second element was the ‘colored result’: white = failure, green = general success, yellow = favorable success, and red = extremely favorable result.

Dragonlance saga by TSR, written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This world fulfilled TSR’s feelings that they had ‘plenty of dungeons but not enough dragons’. TSR backed the Dragonlance world as a full franchise.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones by TSR was an RPG where players chose from one of 8 pre-gen’ed characters and played out in one of the established adventures based upon the films and comics. It utilized a custom percentile-based system. Current copies of this first edition games have been removed from the market and destroyed, for all intents and purposes.

West End Games moves away from the board game world, and publishes Paranoia, a game of dark humor set in a dystopian future, where an insane computer network rules the masses living in Alpha Complex. The players get to design characters that have objectives set by the computer, and their (illegal) secret societies. It is a winner of the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules of 1984.

Chill Pacesetter Ltd, first ed, horror themed RPG based upon the writings of Poe, Shelley, and Stoker. The Star Ace RPG also produced by Pacesetter Games. The tone of this space RPG sets it apart. It is much more free-wheeling and swashbuckling concerned more with action than hard science. It also takes place in a unique universe with over 8,000 planets, a central Empire and all the juicy corruption that comes with it. It’s rules allowed for fast character generation and was based loosely upon a percentile system. The Timemaster RPG by Pacesetter Games focused on adventures through both time and alternate realities as members of the Time Corps of the year 7192. In this game, the primary antagonist are the Demoreans from another dimension who shape shift and are bent on molding time.
Battle Tech (originally Battle Droids, until Lucasfilm raised litigation for the copyrighted name). Is introduced in the video and board game market.

Mekton RPG is published by R. Talsorian Games. This white box game is a tactical war game involving anime mecha elements.

Flashing Blades Fantasy Games Unlimited, set in the era of the Three Musketeers.

Ringworld by Chaosium and based upon the Larry Niven novels. The players are explorers and scouts from Known Space who come to Ringworld. The game is not a space game, being focused upon the exploration of Ringworld itself.

Justice Inc. that was set in a 1930’s pulp fiction-esque universe of organized crime and the supernatural. It used Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying System.

Game Designers Workshop was in existence since the mid-70’s, but it wasn’t until the mid-80’s that they ventured into the RPG market. Twilight 2000, was GDW’s post-war adventure, set in the aftermath of WWIII (the “Twilight War”) where a global conventional war that was resolved with a limited nuclear war. The characters have adventures in the ruins of the aftermath.

Rollmaster 2e by ICE resembled the previous Spell, Arms, Claw Law books, but also introduced a new Spell Law book. The Vog Mur campaign setting and precursor for the Shadow World, which was Loremasters original setting. Spacemaster by ICE is a sci-fi game using the Rolemaster Fantasy system. MERP, Iron Crown Enterprises using a streamlined version of the Rolemaster System. Unlike the Tolken stories, this environment was magic-heavy. The rules system was not for ‘beginner’ players.

Tales from the Crypt RPG  by West End Games. This game used West End’s Masterbook system.

Red Fox publishing under the Random House publishers produced Lone Wolf game books.

Champions third edition incorporated the Hero System and was published by Hero Games

Toon by Steve Jackson Games. This parody of RPG’s was a game where players could never die, showed back up in the next ‘scene’, and freely breaking the fourth wall.

Glorantha with Avalon Hill, In this third edition, the connections with RuneQuest are further loosened. The evolution of Glorantha blossomed, set to become tied to the Pendragon RPG in the upcoming year.

Warhammer 2e is released one year after the first edition. The trait rating is still based upon the percentile system. Also tha year, Golden Heroes is published by Games Workshop, previously a local title. Published in 1984 in a box set. The characters are created with randomly rolled powers / abilities, that must be foretold in an origins story.

The Dark Eye / Het Oog des Meesters by Schmidt Spiele. Germany’s most popular RPG, surpassing even the sales of D&D.

The Swedish-based Target Games released Mutant, based upon the Basic Role-Playing game system and was set in a Gamma World-styled setting.

In the real world, BADD’s Patricia Pulling’s legal accusation that gaming incites suicidal behaviors is countered by Michael A Stackpole (who cites that gamers have lower suicide rates than non-gamers).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Era II, Part 3: The Maze is Entered...

1983 was marked by branches forming in the game industry, some dead ends, and a leaning toward espionage. TSR’s acquisition of SPI’s assets (not its debts and liabilities) allowed TSR to ignore the ‘lifetime guarantee’ of SPI subscriptions, alienating many of TSR’s potential customer base. Also during this time, the weakening presence of wargames in the market was further promoted by the elimination of wargame magazines, save for Strategy & Tactics. This was a busy year for TSR, with the company breaking into four separate entities: TSR Inc (primary), TSR International, TSR Ventures, and TSR Entertainment.

Even with the soft market, Warhammer Fantasy was released, bringing a darkly comedic, gothic, yet Tolkenesque wargaming fantasy world alive. This was Games Workshop spiritual successor to the Reaper game that was published in 1981 (as a second edition). Where Reaper was designed for 30 models on the table, Warhammer was designed to manage many more.

World of Greyhawk boxed set expanded the world and its deities introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975); as well as various Greyhawk-inspired spells, and 10 modules published in the late 70’s, the folio edition released in 1980. The boxed set spawned additional modules and Dragon magazine articles.

Polyhedron magazine shifts from quarterly release to bi-monthly releases.

James Bond 007 was released by Victory Games, moving on to become the most popular of the espionage-based game systems. The custom system used d6 and d10 dice, providing low rolls with better quality outcomes against an Ease Factor. Hero Points further allow a player to perform ‘cinematic’ or ‘unlikely’ stunts, allowing a player to adjust the outcome of an Ease Factor roll by one step.

Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes first edition, published by Flying Buffalo, Inc. The game system was based upon a Tunnels and Trolls derivative, using an attribute plus skill ‘saving throw’ coupling. Further rules are added to include modern weapons and martial art combat. This game is often considered to be “one of those ‘I can’t figure out why it wasn’t more popular’ kind of games” (as per editor Scott Haring).

Superworld, published by Chaosium, using the Basic Role-Playing system. The game was popular with a group in Albuquerque who was game mastered by George R.R. Martin, eventually releasing their concept in the form of the Wild Cards book series.

The Palladium Role-Playing Game was published by Palladium Books, using the Megaversal system. This game system, as a second-edition release, introduces -.C.C. (-varied- Character Class instead of ‘class’). The C.C. unlocks a variety of powers, skills, and attributes that are further improved by the leveling system.

Star Trek 2e was released this year by FASA, along with numerous supplements.

Chivalry & Sorcery 2e was released by Fantasy Games Unlimited. This was a box set, containing three rule booklets. Skills were introduced, and mass combat was removed. Like its previous edition, the political, economic, and military elements of a Tolkenesque Middle Age provides a strong sense of realism.

Pacesetter Games based in Delavan WI took form as TSR employees began leaving the mother ship, with the planned publication of two roll-playing games for the upcoming year…

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Era II, Part 2: The Stars Reach to the Lands

1981 proved to be a somewhat calmer year in the game industry, with the publications focusing more on science fiction or popular published fantasy.
Mayfair Games was founded by Darwin Bromley. Palladium Books opened its doors, with The Mechanoid Invasion. Created by Kevin Siembieda and contributed by Erick Wujcik, it was centered upon a malevolent alien force of bio-mechanical beings from Gideon E that also introduced ‘minor magic and psionics’.
Grimoire Games’s The Arduin Adventure is published as a box set. However, this is also the final year for Grimoire Games. This system was based upon a cross-genre fantasy RPG created in the mid-70’s by David A Hargrave. Although primarily an medieval game, it also borrowed from historical fiction, horror, and interstellar war concepts.
Reaper 2e is the ancestor of today’s Warhammer world, published by Richard Halliwell and Rick Priestley.
Call of Cthulhu was commissioned by Chaosium earlier, but never published. After being contacted by Sandy Petersen of Doom fame; for an idea he had for a RuneQuest game set in H.P. Lovecraft’s world. The result was the first edition of Call of Cthulhe.
Champions, which would become the foundation of the Hero Systems game rule set, later to be published as its own entity in 1989. This was one of the first point-based character generation systems, based upon a super hero world. Character generation involved developing skills, friendships, and unique powers.
Stormbringer by Chaosium. It was a box set is created by Ken St. Andre. Set in the world of the Young Kingdoms found in the Elric books of Michael Moorcock. The system used is Chaosium’s Basic Roll-Playing.
Thieves’ World by Chaosium and FASA, the box set was produced in 1981, with FASA creating further adventures (T1-T4) in 1982 onward. Based upon the book series of the same name; where characters play within The Maze within the city of Sanctuary. In this game, old gods battle on the streets for primacy; outside empires invade and control the city and region, bringing new races and threats. The initial story collection was created in 1978 by Robert Lynn Asprin.
Fighting Fantasy single-player role-play game books are published by Puffin (later Wizard Books). The original series, which would culminate in a total of 59 books by 1995, was written by UK author Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (of Games Workshop fame). The first book in this series was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, based upon an earlier work titled The Magic Quest.

Moving forward to 1982; the RPG industry began to shift... sometimes in an unfortuneate direction. Berkley books brought out Ace publications.  Also this year, Avalon Hill hired staff from a bankrupt Simulations Publications Inc (SPI), forming the company Victory Games as a subsidiary. SPI was indebted to TSR, who completed a buyout over the course of the next year.
Role Aids books which were published by Mayfair Games and used as generic settings and adventures for various game systems. This publication line would include medieval characters being sent to near-present and even science fiction settings, standard ‘good verses evil’ story arcs, and at least one film adaptation (The Keep).
GangBusters, published by TSR and written by Rick Kerbs with Mark Acres. This adaptation of Kerbs’ “Bloody 20’s” game was set in the world of 1920’s gangsters. Players would take the rolls of cops, gang members, or professionals; with organized crime and political corruption being the primary themes. Its location was the fictional Lakefront City.
Star Frontiers, also published by  TSR was a space opera game set near the center of a spiral galaxy. Space travel is based upon reaching 1% light speed, resulting in the opening of The Void, which allows a kind of wormhole effect of travel. Five races (Dralasites, Humans, Vrusk, and Yazirian that would become featured in Spelljammer) as well as the Sathar had starfaring tech. Other, planet-bound races were included as NPCs. The system was a d10 percentile rule set.
Champions second edition came out this year, published under the Hero Systems rule set.
Star Trek 1e was released by FASA, and was based upon derived elements of the original series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. TNG will not release until 1987, which would result in a revamping of the game universe and overall cannon of the series.
On that same note, Starfleet Voyages was also released this year by Terra Games Co. It was focused on the unexplored planets in the United Federation. It was set in the first show’s universe, along with the animated TV series. References tended to be generic, and the rule set included character building as well as star ship conflict resolution.
Worlds of Wonder, released as a box set by Chaosium. This multi-genre game included the booklets Future World, Magic World, and Superworld; each based upon Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing rule set.
The Swedish-based Target Games released Drakar & Demoner, based upon the Basic Role-Playing game system mentioned above.
Simmering issues of social unrest began to boil as Mazes and Monsters was produced from the 1981 novel of the same name. A rise in anti-gaming sediments bloomed. Patricia Pulling creates BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons). This foreshadowed a turbulent time in the RPG industry…

Monday, February 3, 2014

Era II: Part 1. Questing to Where There Be Dragons

Although the trends were already in place earlier, this era of gaming was the beginning of not only new publishers, but also one of new editions. With this came new campaign settings that utilized pre-existing game mechanics. Much like so many other things in the ‘80s, the first half was one of indulgent growth, the second half was something akin to ‘the morning after’.

The Dragon magazine, published first as The Strategic Review in 1975, began publishing ideas centered upon the Forgotten Realms campaign setting in 1980. This setting was created by Ed Greenwood, who had been writing about the setting since his childhood, starting around 1967. In this setting, the concept of a “multiverse” where parallel worlds (including Earth) existed. Here was where all of humanities myths and legends were born. Thus, in 1975, Ed Greenwood’s Waterdeep and Shadowdale were included into his D&D campaign.

Tyr Games had published the Bushido RPG in 1979, but that title was re-published as a box set by Phoenix Games after Tyr’s demise in 1980.  This game was unique in two aspects: first was the low level cap (level 6, maximum); second was the focus on social requirements as part of character advancement.

RuneQuest boiled down into the publication known as Basic Role-Playing, also released by Chaosium. This percentile skill-based system became the foundation rule set for most of the games published by Chaosium.

The Fredonian Aeronautics and Space Administraion (FASA) came onto the scene as a licensee for the Traveller RPG. In Virginia, graduates from the UofV got together and created Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE). ICE created Arms Law, which was something of an add-on for other RPG systems that would promote greater detail to the games. Over time, the ICE “Law” books would be combined to create the first (and second) generation of the Rolemaster RPG.

Between the years 1976 and 1979, 10 adventures were set in the world of Greyhawk. From these modules, which allowed various glimpses into the Gygax home campaign, the first publication of the city itself was created in 1975 as ‘supplement I’. This book did not detail the setting, with its focus being upon the thief and paladin classes, as well as new weapon rules and spells. The setting of Greyhawk itself was published in August of 1980. The geography of the region of Oerik continent was limited to the northeastern region, due to the limitations of paper printing sizes; even though Gygax had the entire world plotted. This folio also contained the politics of the realm, setting the region up to be a chaotic, disruptive area that would enable Game Masters a place ripe with adventures.

Top Secret was produced by TSR in 1980 as well. It was a d10 system, with attributes and other statistics based upon percentile rolls; based upon espionage story settings. Also released by TSR was the Known World, which was a somewhat generic setting for some of the early modules of TSR. The world itself was known and published as Mystara, with the initial continent of Brun (as well as Skothar, Davania and Alphatia).

In November of 1980, the Role Playing Game Association (RPGA) was created by Frank Mentzer of TSR, to promote quality roleplaying and enable D&D fans to meet and game together in a tournament setting. The focus was to have pre-generated characters that would adventure in a 4-hour ‘balanced event’. Membership in the RPGA was paid as a yearly fee, which included a subscription to Polyhedron magazine.

Steve Jackson Games was founded. Steve Jackson also released the game The Fantasy Trip this year through Metagaming Concepts. This game had evolved from the Microgames published in Melee and Wizard. It was released as part of the In the Labyrinth book and was based upon a point buy system.

Lastly, Space Opera was released by Fantasy Games Unlimited. It was designed to encompass the entire genre of science fiction. The core game was originally sold as a boxed game set. This began a theme that would carry into the following year.