One of my earliest deviations...
Recently I found myself down in the garage opening the musty old chest I call my “game box.” This old thing contains pretty much all the surviving game material from my pre and post pubescent years. Besides the Dungeons and Dragons material, which is all stacked and shelved nicely nearby, this box is a chaos of papers, books, maps, tokens, and stuff from other games that we played back in the day. “The Day” means from 1982, when I started playing D&D during recess in 6th grade, until my junior year of high school, where certain other things got in the way of playing. During these 5 or 6 years of intense gaming, we played D&D almost constantly, completing at least 3 full campaigns, including two that I ran, and another DM who ran the complete Dragonlance saga (with our own PCs rather than the famous characters from the book.)
Yet in the midst of all the dungeons and dragons, there were always other games happening. Some were one night stands, others were played when the full group couldn’t meet, and yet others were just short or long escapades and side treks into other role playing games. Sifting through the old trunk full of loose papers and books, it brought back many memories of these other games, which I thought I would share, since I am feeling in a little bit of a reminiscent mood. In the early to mid 80’s, there were a plethora of role playing options, and my group and I tried out many of the best, and worst, games of the era, but the fun and memories we shared together makes all of these games worthy gems.
Whether or not they are ever played again, at least we can look back and enjoy them for what they were at the time. A fun alternative to D&D, and a chance to widen our experience and learn of different genres. I hope you enjoy this brief retrospective on some of the great RPGs from the golden era of role playing.
Even as I was still trying to figure out D&D in the summer of 1983 we were trying out another game by the name of Champions. This was a superhero game, and a favorite of Monte, a big brother a few years older than us. We idolized him for his early RPG roots, and had tons of fun playing in what we called a sandbox game. We never spent too much time with the rules, and indeed we usually played outside in the grass, and used the terrain around us as our campaign world. Sticks, twigs, grass, and piles of dirt became out stomping grounds during these “pick up” games that were basically little more than us little 10-12 yr old kids showing up and gathering around Monte while he led us through adventures I have no memory of whatsoever. Besides all the outdoor fun, about the only other thing I can recall from this time period are the character sheets, and how much time we spent drawing our heroes on the stick models provided.
Champions was a game of great fun, and for our tender minds, this game was all about imagination and had very little rules clutter. In many ways, this was one step removed from playing cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers. Much like at recess where certain obstacles could only be overcome by a trip to the monkey bars, in these young games, our childlike playfulness was barely kept in check by Monte, who allowed us to explore like children. It was a great way to learn role playing games, by playing, and only allowing the rules to show up in small unimportant doses.
Monte also had the Traveler books, but he warned us that they were more advanced, and that he would not deign to teach us to play, since we were kids and morons. That didn’t stop us from trying though, and we spent many long hours with his little black books, trying to roll up characters. As far as I can remember, we never once had a character survive the generation process, and eventually came to believe that Monte was right, and we were to moronic for that austere game. Thus was Traveler just a flash in the pan for us, and we never gave it a second chance. (good riddance.)
During the summers growing up I would often go to Pensacola Florida, and 1983 was no exception. My dad was away in Europe for the first part of the summer vacation, and so I spent vast amounts of time playing role playing games with my new young step-mom. (I fantasized about her being closer to my 12-13 years than my dad’s 30+ but that is a tale for a different time, and probably a different blog altogether.)
Pensacola had one of the greatest hobby stores. I wish I could remember the name, but it was right down town, near the music store where my dad worked, and along with the nearby arcade, going to the hobby store was one of the highlights of summer. Much of my arsenal of RPG goods was bought at that store, including the game Toon and Toon Strikes Back. It was also where I picked up my mega-mat, after seeing it one year and saving up for it the next.
Toon was the role playing game Julie and I spent the summer playing, sitting around on the living room floor. It was loads of fun, and the thing I remember most about it was the “Chutzpah!” rule. Apparently you needed a lot of chutzpah to play that game, and we hammed it up as much as possible. I don’t even remember any of the characters. I was the gm, and there were some other kids who would occasionally play with us, but the majority of the time it was me and Julie laughing it up.
That shop in Pensacola was also where I picked up the next game on my list, James Bond 007. What originally drew me to this game was the awesome equipment. They had chapters of the most beautiful British and European sports cars, each of which was decked out in the best spy equipment. I remember seeing Aston Martins that could travel underwater and Ferrari’s with rocket boosters. Spy pens, computer watches, robotic crocodiles, it was all in there, and it even had adventures made from the best movies. I owned Goldfinger and Doctor No, both excellent in quality and content. The maps were incredible, and the adventure was made to be played through either as James Bond, or with a party of other heroic super spies. I especially remember the rules for seduction in that game, with great NPC characters such as Pussy Galore.
Three other games that were also popular about this time, but that no one in our circle of gaming friends was able to procure, were the TSR games Gangbusters, Boot Hill, and Top Secret. These 3 semi-realistic historical role playing games were mentioned in the AD&D DM guide, and were always on our lookout list, but it never happened. Too bad. One game that did happen was TSR’s post apocalyptic heart breaker Gamma World. What a game! I loved this game, and would pull it out any chance I could. It was about this time that I discovered the wonder of the post apocalypse from movies like Mad Max and The Day After, as well as everyday life, where our school held “nuclear war” alarms, and a big siren would go off every couple of weeks in our neighborhood. The Day After was filmed in my hometown.
The 80’s was a very strange time. As the Cold War reached climax, the nation was in stark terror of a nuclear war, and every time an airplane flew over, it sounded like it might be an ICBM missile streaking towards evil Russia. Gamma World, and the other post apocalyptic games we played, such as Aftermath, helped us through this time, and gave us the courage to face these dark days, and even allowed us to fantasize about overcoming them. With robot dogs and crossbows.
Speaking of Mad Max, I would be remiss if I weren’t to bring up Car Wars. For a long time, this simple little game held our attention as much as D&D, and I can remember one summer I spent building a complete RPG rule set onto the small book of rules for automobile combat. This game inspired us in our post apocalyptic fervor and was probably the second most played game after D&D. We even played mini campaigns with our characters and cars. I can not under-state how influential this game was to me, and to our fledgling group of gamers. Doing a bootlegger’s reverse was considered the epitome of awesome. Incidentally the movie Deathrace 2000 was as influential to our Car Wars gaming, as Road Warrior was to our Gamma World.
During the course of our journey through the role playing greats of the 80’s, we also spent a fair amount of time doing other geeky endeavors. One of these endeavors was close combat with duct tape and foam covered wooden weapons. (my Bohemian Ear Spoon
with a duct taped roll of paper towels on the end was a masterpiece to behold – or wield.) Through the local Renaissance Festival we were introduced to the Society for Creative Anachronism and this gritty combat led us to favor more detail in our combats than D&D was used to giving us, and led with flirtations into other sorts of games, like GURPS man to man
for one. Aftermath
also had a hit location chart and short turns, and we were drawn to these sorts of games at the time.
To this day I still remember the circular arguments about how to specify hit locations for non humanoid enemies, ugh. However, it is good to see that the later iterations of D&D agreed with us that a one minute combat round was too non-specific, and like we did during our realism kick, rounds are now shortened down to a few seconds apiece. You can thank me later.
Yossarian the Yazarian is the one on the right - its goggle time baby!
I have yet to mention one of our greatest diversions. Star Frontiers
(also from TSR) was a sci fi game that appealed to all of us. It was mostly like D&D which was a boon, and its cast of races was of such magnificent imagination that there was a race for each of us to enjoy. I personally played Yossarian the Yazarian during our Star Frontiers
Epoch, and we were lucky enough to have our other DM Roge run us through the Star Frontiers inspired adventures 2001 and 2010 a Space Odyssey
. That was one weird movie tie-in related set of products. (Must check ebay for these.) As far as I can remember it was also kind of lame. I probably felt that way because I couldn’t have my flying monkey man go up against HAL 9000.
So far I have mentioned only the role playing games I played growing up, but throughout the tenure of the Midwest Gamers, we played wargames nearly as much as all other games combined (except D&D which was, is and always shall be king.) For tactics, Squad Leader couldn’t be beat, and for grand strategy, a favorite of ours was NATO. Other games included a completely epic WARGAME based on the novel Dune, and a few small “pocket” wargames, such as one about the Alamo, or another one about barbarian tribes. I owned the solo wargame Ambush! And when the movie Platoon came out, they dutifully released and we dutifully bought a somewhat bland wargame based on that movie.
Another game we played towards the end of our decade of hard core gaming was Twilight 2000. I played an east german hottie double agent named Nadia in the game and two things I remember from the game are all the beautiful descriptions and depictions of weaponry. (I still love that Swiss G11.) One other iota of trivia – Twilight 2000 introduced us to the successor to the jeep, called the HMMVW or “Humvey” for short, and it was an ubiquitous vehicle in the game, we all drove them. Years later I would see the actual vehicle, though it was called the “Hummer” for short. If you call it a “humvey” people will look at you funny. So I give credit to Twilight 2000 to correctly calling the future of the jeep, but they lose a point for getting the slang name wrong.
Moral of the story: you never forget your first hummer.
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