Tag Archives: RPGs

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.


The Dice of Generations

When it comes to geek “cred,” you either have it or you don’t have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as “geek cred”. That’s because the very concept of receiving peer social approval by being able to intelligently speculate on the origins of Boba Fett or recite Monty Python sketches verbatim was only rewarded by a very select crowd, and this was lore spoke of in hushed tones, hurriedly while we were looking over our shoulders to make sure nobody was listening. Lest the jeering start.

Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

So.. when I reference these objects, I’m sure there will be people in the readership of this blog that are going to recognize them. They will know their origins. They will sigh wistfully at the rounded edges, the scratches, the almost vanished grooves where numbers used to be.

It is altogether fitting you should be wistful.  These are the very first commercially available D&D dice, designed specifically to play that game.  I’m not sure of their provenance, but it is likely they were manufactured around 1980 or so.  Sure, they are (technically, an Octohedran, a Dodecahedron, a cube, a pyramid and two Trapezohedrons, but to an earlier generation, these were the spiff.  Dice MADE to play D&D with.  They were a huge hit.  Everyone who played had a set.  So what if they were crappy dice?  So what if the ink had to be reapplied with a drafting pen, until the edges got so warn and rounded you weren’t sure if it was worth repairing?  So what?  These were D&D dice.  These opaque beauties weren’t much to look at but this is “how we rolled” when we were nestled in Jay’s basement, or my basement, or Pete’s house.  I never got rid of mine, but I did put them in my old 16mm film can, and stored it on top of a bookcase in my study when we moved into our last house in 2000, and there it stayed undisturbed.  When a tree fell on my house last October, we had a flooded basement and had to pitch everything.  Including my bookcases and tons of gaming stuff.  I didn’t give it any thought, but the can (and everything else in my study) was gone.

(going back in time for a moment): Many years ago, my son, then in 5th grade, came home all excited.

It’s this game we play at lunch time, dad.. one person sort of navigates with words, the other people kind of go through adventures, by calling them out and then we draw maps… it’s really really fun!

I realized my son was describing Dungeons and Dragons to me.  His very first game of it.  I had never pushed him into playing, or even really talked to him about RPGs.  He wandered there all by himself, and thought he was cool because of his great discovery.  He’s played D&D on and off since then, not every week but on a semi-regular basis.  Now that he’s out of high school, he’s got his first job at a Summer Camp for scouts, as a blacksmith.  I recently got an urgent call from Garrett.  There’s no internet at camp, no cell reception, and he’s bored and so are all the other young men down there.  Would I send him the D&D 5 edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s handbook?  I was tickled, and said, sure, why not, I can think of worse diversions.  Then I texted him back– “need anything else? Do you have dice?  You need special kinds”  He texted back.

“Got that covered. I found this when they were tossing all your stuff in the rollaway”

And he sent a picture of a little steel film can, full of crappy D&D dice from circa 1980.  And a few of the sturdier, cooler Lou Zocchi dice, too, from the same period.   I was speechless.   I realized, then, that these were the dice of generations.  They were kind of rounded and old and probably needed a re-inking, but my son, by himself, had wandered into the same hobby I had loved when I was his age.  He was having the same kind of fun we did back then, with paper, pencils, a good DM with some imagination, munchies… and a can of crappy old dice.  Some things don’t have to be the latest and greatest, when you have an imagination.

He texted me later asking “Hey, I didn’t ask, I just saw them throwing stuff out and the can rolled out.. it is okay for me to use these?  We don’t have a game store near here” I texted back… “Of course it is. That’s YOUR dice collection, now.”

Postscript: Garrett sent me a photo of him setting up for a D&D 5th edition game at the Summer Camp he works at. Note the little 16mm film can full of original TSR dice goodies, still giving good service, 40 years later.

An old dog tries out Mutant Future, by Goblinoid Games

My friends and I played the early versions of TSR’s  GAMMA WORLD and METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA to death when we were kids– generating tons of campaign material some of the most memorable games ever.  These early SF role-playing games had lots of things going for them– none of the minutiae associated with D&D but roughly the same structure we were already familiar with and a conversely lots more open ended than their older brother, D&D.  Sadly GW and MA went by the wayside as I got older and my RPG group kind of drifted apart.

With the advent of the Internet and streaming cameras, Google Hangouts and a decent webcam and Mic, much of the problems of distance and time that drive someone out of roleplaying are solved. I have written about my adventures trying something new with remote play of RPGs before with a RPG called Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games.  LL is a fairly obvious D&D clone that harkens back to a time when TSR/Wizards of the Coast allowed for outside development by putting D&D out as an open license.  The result was a multitude of RPG games similar to Labyrinth Lord– the most famous being Pathfinder.   Mutant Future was Goblinoid’s second product.  To say it’s “just a Gamma World clone” is perhaps overstating it.. the mechanics of GW were not released under open license, after all.  So Mutant Future is essentially a post-apocalyptic RPG skin of Laybrinth Lord, which is based on the D&D license.  With that stated up front.. yeah, it’s a lot like Gamma World.

Lone mountain bunker, where the adventure starts

We played members of a village called Lone Mountain, which is built around some ancient bunkers that still have a few tech items left from the pre-apocalypse days. The Eldars are concerned about the encroachments from the outside and sent out a scouting party that never returned. The preliminary returns from the reconnaissance brought back the map fragment you see above. We were sent out to determine who lives around us and to assess the threat situation more accurately.

My character was a mental mutant with four mental mutations, only one of which appears to be much use:

Larc Killstrike

Larc is a dark-visaged youth, in his early 20s who is apparently human, but for some reason he exudes a sort of anti-charisma not usually associated with humans. His negative empathy generation has caused him to grow increasingly paranoid and defensive as he has gotten older. As he spends a lot of time alone, he talks to himself a lot and he frequently fidgets. He favors dark colors– another culture might accuse him of being “goth”.

STR — 17 +2 mod TH, DMG, Door
DEX — 12 0 Mod
CON — 13 0 mod
INT — 13 +5%
WIS — 12
CHA — 13 -1 RA, 5 Ret 8 RM
58 HPS

Mutations: 1D4
Mental Mutant

1) Vampiric Field
2) Negative Empathy
3) Neural Telepathy
4) Metaconcert

110 GP starter


2 Ball Bearings

 L Crossbow 17 GP
+ 20 quarrels 1d6 dmg
Longsword 10 GP 1d8 dmg
studded Leather Armor 30GP
Shield 10GP
– clothes
– small items
– bedroll & blanket attached
– rope wrapped around
– mushrooms

Unless stipulated, in pack:
Bedroll 1 sp
Blanket, winter 5 sp
Crowbar 2GP
Flint Steel 2GP
pole 10 ft 2 sp
lantern 9GP
rope 10GP
9 days trail rations at 5GP
Waterskin 1GP

=102 GP
8 left

Vampiric Field This mutation grants the mutant the ability to absorb the life essence (hit points) from all creatures (friend or foe) within a foot radius equal to 30+WIL. This power absorbs 2d4 hp per round from all creatures in the radius, and these absorbed points go into a separate reserve for the mutant. All damage to the mutant is taken from these reserved points until they are gone; after this point the mutant’s regular hp begin to be affected. Stored hp will disappear after 24 hours.

Negative Empathy The mutant sends out waves of negative mental energy, causing anyone with less than 17 Intelligence within a 90’  radius to have a 15% probability of attacking the mutant.  Only one check is necessary per person until they leave the field and reenter it.

Neural Telepathy Using this ability, the mutant can connect his mind with another creature’s mind and communicate directly, even if the two creatures speak completely different languages or are of different species. The range of this ability is 30 feet.

Metaconcert This ability allows the mutant to link its mind with other
mutants of a similar type or those who have the same mental mutation. These include those with the Metaconcert mutation, or other mental mutations that facilitate control between the minds of two beings. The
mutant may combine his WIL with the WIL of other mutants for conducting a mental attack, or some other joint  purpose.?

That’s right.  I’m playing a guy named Larc Killstrike who essentially can leach the vitality out of everyone in the room and automatically makes stupid people hate him.  This is going to be hilarious.  I’m playing him as shy and kind of anti-social, as he would be very self conscious of the hostility he creates just by walking into a room.  Fortunately our “Mutant Master” (GM) ruled that the party members know Larc and are used to him by now.    Of these mutations, Neural Telepathy came in handy (once) and I never used the Vampiric Leech thing.  Metaconcert seems nice in theory but really I’m not sure what we could use it with.  I have nothing that really “Attacks” mentally– and I don’t think any of the party members do either.

Our party headed toward the river (see map above), discovering some delicious truffle mushrooms on the way.   They turned out to be edible so I filled my pack with them.

We avoided an encounter with some cubs of a really awful monster called a vile slasher or something like that.  Sadly when we went north to the next riverside hex and tried to cross, one of our guys (Johnny Walker) got shreddded by mutated piranha fish.   We fished our volunteer out and headed north some more.. only to discover a group of friendly little pig men called the Suidioi or something like that.  Fortunately they were telepathic and we conversed easily– it helps to have telepathy.  They were a nice bunch.  I tried not to think of bacon too much.  We did some trading and one of our guys got a chain mail outfit out of it.    They turned us on to a building “that was very dangerous and had led to the death of many suidioi” or something like that.

where we were by the end of the night.. Southern edge of the lake in the north end of the map.

There’s also a lake with a human-ish village North of the drawing up top.  We got to the location of the single building and encountered a compound of sorts, with a large “box on treads” patrol in a very predictable path around it.  I tried to break into guard shack but failed twice, making too much racket and attracting the attention of the box.  I ran for it and it went back to patrolling.  The other guys did a circuit around the building to map it out for us.  When we got back together (behind the dumpsters in the drawing below) we called it a night.

The Compound, end of session. Yes, as you can see we had quite a crowd.

This game went well. It definitely had that old Gamma World, “exploring in the ruins of the ancients” without a lot of the paperwork modern games put you through feel to it. The GM, Eric, is a good referee, funny, and he admits when he doesn’t know something, and is creative enough to improvise as we move along. I’ve gamed with these guys (remotely) before, or at least many of them, and they are a good bunch. Technically I was beset by some problems. I got the impression that SOME people heard me over the mic and some didn’t. I think the problem came from RollD20 (the app about which I’ve spoken before– it allows you to run a RPG game over a browser) taking control of my mic when I was already using Google Hangouts to communicate– then when I muted it on RollD20 nobody seemed to hear me. Stuff happens. I communicated as best I could.

I’ll definitely play Mutant Future again. It’s a real blast from the past. I’m liking Goblinoid Games more and more these days.


RPGs: Old School Meets a New Technology

I played many a RPG when I was a youngster, and even a young adult.  Back when I had not much to do with my young post-graduate life but having fun, concerning myself only with getting up, going to work, paying bills and whatnot.  In those days, it was not at all uncommon for my friends and I to convene an AD&D game on Saturday day and play literally all the way around the clock, getting up to go out on Monday mornings with all the clean-suited commuters gazing in wonder at this gaggle of bloodshot, haggard looking youngsters going out for pancakes on a Monday morning while they were going out to  their jobs.  Gradually, girlfriends became wives, jobs became more demanding and serious, children started showing up, and we weren’t playing RPGs any more.  Why?  The time it took, mostly.  A single combat could take most of an evening.  Rolling up characters could do the same.  We played AD&D a lot back then, Dungeons and Dragons (old version) being the game most of started with and were still very comfortable with, but also Traveler, Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Paranoia, Dragonquest, Runequest, etc.  We usually came back to AD&D in its assorted flavors, usually 2.0.  I’ve seen lots of chatter on the web about roleplaying over the years but I’ve not been that eager to jump right in again, being mostly a boardgamer and miniatures player.  And yet.. and yet…

The phenomenal growth of “Old School” gaming in the last few years (in response, I suspect, of the dumbing down of major commercial RPG products like D&D 4.0) has created some interesting alternatives for an “old School” player like me.  Games like Pathfinder and Labyrinth Lord are more familiar to me than anything TSR/Wizards of the Coast has released in the last ten years.  There’s a whole host of more specialized, narrow focus niche RPGs that have come out in the last decade, as well, and some of them are really quite clever, like Fiasco or Munchausen.   Many of them intrigue me, certainly the two I just named do.  I guess I’m just a sucker for the classics.

When Boardgamegeek introduced the notion of Virtuacon recently, I admit I had some interest.  The idea behind Virtuacon is to play in RPG games using collaborative technologies such as Google Hangouts, and the Roll 20 virtual tabletop service.   RPG Geek, the RPG arm of BGG, is sponsoring a wide variety of RPGs over the next month or so, in the attempt to get momentum going behind playing RPGs via collaborative (free) technology.  I have to say I’m behind this idea.  I love the “garage band” feel of this effort.  So what the heck, I browsed the choices available and selected a game called Labyrinth Lord.  This is essentially the old school D&D of my youth resurrected with some new covers and concepts to avoid the publishers getting their asses sued off.

Labyrinth Lord (or L&L??) has a nice visual appeal, which pulls my nostalgia strings:

Labyrinth Lord Cover, the 80s called, and they want their art back!

Labyrinth Lord Cover, the 80s called, and they want their art back!

Inside, the tables and interior illustrations are DEFINITELY old school

Inside, the tables and interior illustrations are DEFINITELY old school

So I’ve joined a special Google plus hang out and tonight we ran the technical checks to see if I could connect. My creaky PC doesn’t have the capability to video camera anyone, but I could connect audibly, and the run through on D20 worked like a charm.

Google Hangout Connect. This is what we'll be talking into, and some will video cam in too.

Google Hangout Connect. This is what we’ll be talking into, and some will video cam in too.

The adventure is called BARROWMAZE.  It's a MEGA dungeon in the Labyrinth Lord universe, and a commercial product.

The adventure is called BARROWMAZE. It’s a MEGA dungeon in the Labyrinth Lord universe, and a commercial product.

Drilling down to the portion of the map where the party enters the dungeon, going over the D20 app interface.

Drilling down to the portion of the map where the party enters the dungeon, going over the D20 app interface.

All of the technology works fine, more or less. My Snowball microphone, which works just fine with this computer, worked as the input device and my flip phones were the earphones. I’ll post more as the campaign actually opens up. I’m liking this!