11 March 2016

Games I'd Like To Play in 2016 - Old School Edition

  As a geek who's hit 40, I'm not a complete and total young'un in my hobby.  This summer will mark my 30th year as a player of roleplaying games and wargames (not counting Stratego/Risk, etc which I picked up at a younger age.)  I am proud to count among my friends and Royal Dragoon Guards conspirators Dennis Sustare, who, at 76, was there for the beginning of the hobby and rubbed elbows with fellow giants.  Dennis wrote Bunnies & Burrows and published it in 1976, just two years after Dungeons & Dragons.  Having Dennis around has made me realize that my roots don't go nearly as far back in the hobby as it feels sometimes when our younger players, all born late enough to plausibly be my own kids, reveal how new they are to the scene.  As anyone who reads my blog probably knows, I got my start the Summer of 1986 playing Mentzer Basic/Expert.  In latter years I've come to have a huge appreciation for the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X edition that predated me, and I'm beginning to really grok the original D&D rules and the Holmes Basic Set that clarified them.

  Being a history grad student had the side effect of giving me a keen interest in the history of the hobby.  I devoured Playing at the World, Of Dice and Men, Designers and Dragons, and most recently the E. Gary Gygax biography Empire of Imagination.  I began to fancy myself a bit of an RPG historian.  I started collecting older games that arrived before I began gaming.  Some of them, like the original Top Secret, were earlier editions of games I had played like Top Secret S/I.  Others were games I had heard of that were nearly legendary, like Metamorphosis Alpha.  This penchant for wanting to know as much as I could about the history of our hobby was spurred on by my attendance at two conventions last year.

  At Chupacabracon in Austin I met some game designers that I had immense respect for - Shane Hensley, Ken Hite, Ross Watson and others.  I was particularly happy to meet Sean Patrick Fannon and tell him I had quoted his Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible in my thesis draft.  There was a spirited discussion about Champions, a game that had passed me by as none of my immediate gamer circle played it, and we talked about Aaron Allston and his work, and how much we missed him.  Aaron was also cited in my thesis, and I am honored to have had him sit at my game table and regale me with tales of creating the first of the Gazetteer series for D&D.  I spent so much time listening to authors and artists (sometimes both in one person, like Jeff Dee!) that I didn't play a single game at Chupacabracon.  I spent all my time in panels, soaking it all in.

  Later in the year I attended perhaps the most amazing convention experience of my life.  North Texas RPG Con.  Now, I gushed about this con in a previous post- and I meant every word of it.  Being among the authors of the games I grew up with was incredible.  Mentzer, Grubb, Cook, and so many more.  Artists.  Larry Elmore, Jeff Dee (again!), Janelle Jaquays...  I got to meet and game with Merle Rasmussen, my first experience playing the original Top Secret- and it was definitely not a disappointment.

  In my quest to play and absorb the experience and feel of the games that helped form the hobby, I am making a list of games I want to find the time to play in 2016.  I'm thinking I may create pregens and have folks over for a single one-shot evening to experience these older games.  A lot of them are TSR products, but not all.  These are all games which I've either not played before, or only played once or twice a while back.  Games I think will be interesting to play for their historical significance to the hobby.  Here they are in order of publication date.

  • Dungeons & Dragons (1974) - Specifically, I want to play using Chainmail and the map from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival game, as was specified in the original rulebooks.  I want to take D&D for a spin as it was originally meant to be played.
  • Bunnies & Burrows (1976) - I'll admit it.  Playing animals was never really a draw for me, but so many folks speak fondly of Dennis' design and game, I feel I really need to give it a shot.
  • Metamorphosis Alpha (1976) -  I have a beautiful reprint of this game thanks to a Kickstarter from last year.  This was the first Sci-Fi RPG, when most of my Sci-Fi in those early years was Traveller, FASA Trek and WEG Star Wars.  I've got some modules that came with the Kickstarter, so I'm ready to take this for a spin.
  • Gamma World (1978) - Played the later versions a lot in high school, but never had the opportunity to play the original.  I have a feeling if Thundarr and Mad Max could be mashed up, you might get Gamma World.
  • Villains & Vigilantes (1979) - One of the earliest supers games, designed by Austin's own Jeff Dee.  As with Met Alpha above, I generally got my heroes on using TSR's Marvel, so never got to give V&V a try.
  • Space Opera (1980) - Looks like fun, but also has that late 70s, early 80s crunch going for it.  I have a boxed set and a few sourcebooks.
  • The Fantasy Trip (1980ish) - Proto GURPS.  I loved the Melee/Wizard games as standalone gladiatorial combat-style games.  Have never used them as an RPG, though.  I have a friend who was raised on TFT by her gamer parents, so I'll have to give this one a try.
  • Top Secret (1980) - Played twice, want to give this a spin again.  Played quite a bit of S/I, but any player of the original edition will tell you the two are so different as to be almost totally unrelated.
  • Champions (1981) - If I carried one thing away from Chupacabracon, it was that the majority of those game designers that I respected and were glued to played a LOT of Champions back in the 80s.  Specifically, the Big Blue Book era.  I have procured this book, and the GM screen from the era, and a number of the sourcebooks.  With the Kickstarter for Aaron Allston's Strike Force update/reprint, I look forward to giving this classic a try.
  • Swordbearer (1982) - This is another of Dennis Sustare's designs, but everywhere I see it mentioned it's described as innovative and novel.  This gets my interest in a big way.  Not only do I want to play one of my friend's designs, I want to see what innovative and novel were in 1982.


  1. 1st Gamma World with those fantastic Trampier illos... yeah. Thundarr, yes, not so much Mad Max. Aftermath is better for that.

    V+V, just another superhero game, nothing stands out. It's a good game, but doesn't do anything other systems don't.

    Champions, good system, but I vaguely remember it being more complex than GURPS, which modern gamers seem to believe is the synonym for "complex and arithmeticky".

    Space Opera is definitely good for the feel of 50's-70's sci-fi.

    1. Actually quite a lot stands out in V&V to make it distinctive. Playing yourself as a super hero, the writing style, the old school approach to powers and allowing for creativity by having things such as Mutant Power and Body Power and allowing the player to define aspects of some powers...just to start...

  2. Please tell Mr. Sustare I still enjoy and play the heck out of HEROES OF OLYMPUS!

  3. Swordbearer's approach to wealth/money was very innovative and continues to be borrowed to this day. It also has interesting and original nonhuman races to choose from if you like nonhumanocentric fantasy but tire of elves and dwarves and hobbits.