The Fantasy Trip comes home to SJG (and apologies)


Hi. Long time no blog to you, if you’re still reading this. Things.. happened. My house is rebuilt *mostly<* and we are moved back in, and life has become a lot of unpacking and sorting and continuous throwing of stuff out. LOTS OF STUFF out. I need to. I made a promise to winnow my gaming collection down to 1/3 of its current size. This is no small feat. So I admit it, I haven’t been posting a lot. Sorry. I’m going to change that, right now. I’ve been painting and playing again, and I’m enjoying that. More on that later.  — W.
The Now Not quite so young Steve Jackson, holding older copies of the Fantasy Trip, 35 years later.

My first post of 2018 is really kind of old news, but I couldn’t just let it just pop up on the radar without commenting on it. First, a little history. A long time back, in the bad old late 70s, there was a tiny company in Texas called Metagaming Concepts. Metagaming was on the forefront of a trend I like called “Microgaming”. This was a concept where pretty much everything you needed to play a complete, self-contained game was presenting in a tiny ziplocked bag, with stripcut counters and a kind of ho-hum map. For usually 2.95 SRP. Teen-aged me loved the idea of these (and I pay tribute to them with an entire page of this blog, actually). Most of these micro games were tiny standalone boardgames, but the third and sixt in the series were part of a tiny roleplaying game (the first publication was Melee, which dealt with fighting and monsters and such, and the sixth was Wizard, which picked up the magical end of things). The series encompassed by the two products was called “The Fantasy Trip” (TFT). They were the product of a very imaginative young man named Steve Jackson who already had a little game named OGRE under his belt. TFT became a big hit (for Metagaming) and generated enough revenue to expand the line, going from ziploc to small (crushable) cardboard box, then on to advanced melee and wizard (which were folio sized and jam packed with material) and Tollenkars Lair, which expanded on the system even more. Every kid in my social circle was at least noddingly familiar with D&D. Of course we were. Some had tried some of the alternatives in those days, such as Traveler, and Metamorphosis Alpha and one or two more non-TSR systems, especially the Fantasy Trip.

TFT was remarkable in its simplicity. Everything, and I mean everything, derived from three simple statistics. You started with a template character and customized him with remaining points. You were limited by things like strength and dexterity so there were some weapons you just couldn’t use. Spells were even simpler (and kind of painful). I loved the system, myself, but wasn’t a fanatic about it.. even though D&D was miles more complicated and did a lot of the thinking for us, we liked poring over all those misleading charts, I guess. TFT was cooler than that– it made it so simple, we mistrusted it. That’s all there is? It would take a couple of years for me to grasp something Steve Jackson understood from day one.. you’re playing a story, you’re IN a story, when you are playing RPGs. You’re not in a rulebook. It’s about the story, first and foremost, so why not make the rules as simple as possible?  That’s what I like about TFT, and why I collected everything they made, mini-adventures and all, before Metagaming went out of business.

If you know your hobby history, you already know that Steve Jackson and the head of the defunct Metagaming Concepts, Mr. Howard Thompson, did not (from all reports) part ways amicably. Steve Jackson left Metagaming with the rights to his OGRE/GEV universe intact, but he could not come to an agreement with Thompson about The Fantasy Trip. Rather than sell the rights back at a reasonable price, Mr. Thompson shuttered the doors, turned off the lights at Metagaming and disappeared from public view. And so it has been, for thirty five years. The rights to the coolest alternative RPG from the distant past was in a legal limbo– held by a company that had long since ceased to exist. Sigh.

Until now that is. This statement was posted on the daily Illuminator at the Steve Jackson Games website, somewhat recently:

December 26, 2017: The Fantasy Trip Returns Home


The Fantasy Trip:  At the beginning of my career, long before GURPS, I created a roleplaying game called The Fantasy Trip. For decades, the rights have been held by Metagaming, a publisher which is no longer in operation. I’m very pleased to announce that I have regained the eight TFT releases that I wrote myself: Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar’s Lair.This is just an initial announcement, to invite you to celebrate with me a day that has been a long time coming!I have no idea yet about release schedules. I will probably have to answer most questions with “I don’t know yet” – but feel free to use the button below to go to the forum discussion of this post, and try me . . . or just share memories of the game!— Steve Jackson

Wow. That’s some amazing news there.  The Fantasy Trip comes home, at long last!  “But wait, SJG already HAS a RPG system, one that they have been supporting for 35 years– GURPS*, right?”  Well yes, that’s true, and SJG has put a lot of work into supporting it, too.  Although GURPS 1.1 certainly bore some resemblance to Melee/Wizard, they really were different systems, and the GURPS of today really bears little resemblance to the TFT of 35 years ago.  There will be a lot of work to be done to get the older system up to snuff– in a lot of ways.  The graphics for the old TFT were funky, and  I like them, but they are from a very different time and place than 2018.  There are a lot of conventions to work out to make the TFT titles fit into the SJG portfolio.. how will it fit in the product catalog?  A GURPS alternative?  A competing product?  This is going to be more complex than just reprinting an old game (which is becoming the craze these days).

In any event, I’m delighted to see these old friends resurface again, after being in limbo for so many decades.  I look forward to seeing TFT back in print again.

GURPS: Generic Universal Roleplaying System.   See here.

7 comments

  1. I’m nostalgic about these items – TFT was the only RPG that really attracted my interest (after a year or two of playing Melee and Wizard). I wonder – did Howard Thompson need a new swimming pool? Or is he dead, and his heirs and executors are more approachable? We’ll probably never know.

    • Actually we do know, because it was Steve Jackson who explained it. It wasn’t anything as prosaic as basic greed. The copyright lapsed under current US copyright law, therefore the intellectual property reverted to its creator.

      • Aha! Thank you. My impression was that US copyright law had it lapse after 75 years, or never in the case of Mickey Mouse (per Michael Eisner).

      • The Disney Corporation is one of the major reasons that US Copyright law is so jacked up at the moment and nothing can seem to go into the public domain, so I can see how you got that impression. I’m not sure about how or why SJG could assume ownership of his lapsed intellectual property claim, but his explanation seems to make sense and was vetted through legal counsel, so I’m assuming this is on the level.

      • Oh I’m sure it’s quite legitimate! I just didn’t expect to see it happen, after what I had read about the parting of the ways. Anyway, let’s hope the nostalgia fumes are strong for this one… as I said, I had a lot of lunchtime fun with Melee back in the day, and taught it to my son 20 years later…

      • At the end of the day, who are we kidding here? YOU KNOW if it Kickstarts, I’ll be there handing them my sheckels with the rest of the nostalgic old guys.. 🙂

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