Originally from Kentucky, Ty Johnston is a former newspaper editor who now lives in North Carolina while penning tales of epic fantasy, horror and other literature. He is vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit organization focused upon bringing heroic literature to all readers. When not writing or reading, he enjoys hiking, longswording, bourbon, tabletop role-playing games, target shooting, and his girlfriend. Not always in that order. He is the author of several fantasy series, including The Kobalos Trilogy, The Sword of Bayne Trilogy, and The Walking Gods Trilogy.
Traveling through time with The Dr. Who Role Playing Game
Once upon a time, there was an age in which no one had heard of Weeping Angels or The Timeless Child, an age before the fez but after jelly babies, an age before Daleks could fly when there had been only six Doctors. I’m talking about 1985, the year TheDr. Who Role Playing Game was released by FASA, a company then known as the original publisher of the Shadowrun tabletop roleplaying game and the science fiction war game BattleTech.
The Dr. Who Role Playing Game came in a boxed set with three books of rules: The Player’s Manual, a Game Operations Manual, and a Sourcebook for Field Operatives. There were at least three different printings of this game with the first printing having a cover painting of the Fourth Doctor and companion Leela while the second and third printings had covers of a photograph of the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Also, while the information was the same, the various rules books inside the box had different covers for each of the three printings.
Though it no longer exists, the gaming company known as TSR, Inc., will always be associated with Dungeons & Dragons. However, TSR published a lot more tabletop roleplaying games than D&D. The science fiction game Star Frontiers to this day has a strong fan base, and the game Gamma World continues to find some love. That being said, many of TSR’s other RPGs tend to have been forgotten by a wider audience though they might still have a community of followers.
Such a game is Gangbusters.
Designed by Rick Krebs and originally published in 1982, Gangbusters takes place in the America of the 1920s and 1930s in the fictional Lakefront City. This is a game of cops and robbers, of gangsters and crime lords and Tommy guns. Historical figures such as Al Capone or Pretty Boy Floyd might make an appearance along with fictional characters like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but players also have the opportunity to play the bad guys. Or they can play the good guys and join the side of the law. Or they can be something in between, like a newspaper reporter or photographer.
The original version of Gangbusters included multiple maps, two ten-sided die, and a 64-page book of rules. Today 64 pages might not seem like much for a rules book, but Gangbusters had plenty of information packed into those pages.
Firearms from the Old West era have always fascinated me. It’s not simply the physical attractiveness of such weapons, though some are quite pleasing to look upon, but it’s the mechanics and the operation of these firearms which has always drawn me. Single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, cap and ball weapons, even scatter guns of the period, they all take a certain amount of basic knowledge and skill to operate, to even load, let alone fire. There has always been something about the physical manipulation of such weapons which has interested me, far more than most modern firearms which are more deadly but don’t usually require the same operations.
In the half century or so that makes up most of video game history, there have been plenty of games which have featured swords and swordfighting. From fantasy games to ultra-realistic combat games, most have not gone for any realism except perhaps graphically, though there have been a handful of notable exceptions such as Bushido Blade and Kengo. Until fairly recently that has not been much of an issue. The average video game player, if there can be said to be such a person, has seemed to be more interested in flashy graphics and action than in realistic swordfighting, or at least that is what the gaming market has mostly provided. Yet the last couple of decades have brought about the popularity of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) with more and more practitioners and proponents joining the leagues every day, along with those who have interests in other martial arts. And these people, the folks who train and compete with swords, they know their swordfighting. Which means when they want to play a swordfighting video game, they want realism not only in how swords look but in how the bladed weapons perform on the screen.
Finally there is a video game for them.
The game’s title is Hellish Quart. Produced by Jakub and Kate Kisiel of the Polish studio Kubold, Hellish Quart is a 3D physics-based, one-on-one swordfighting game in which each fencing move of the characters on screen have been motion captured.
Hellish Quart is currently an Early Access game, which means there is more work yet to be done on it, and so far it is only available for play on a Windows platform. But don’t let any of that fool you. If you are interested in serious, historical fencing, this is a game you will want to look into.
Usually here at Black Gate I write about old-school tabletop roleplaying games or elements related to them, but now I’m going to truly show my age by writing about Deadlands. See, I continue to think of Deadlands as a new rpg even though it’s now a quarter of a century old. And what a quarter century it has been for this game.
Developed by Shane Lacy Hensley and originally released in 1996 by the Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Deadlands immediately proved quite popular with gamers and with critics, eventually earning as many as eight Origins Awards. And why not? Combining elements of horror with the legendary atmosphere of the Old West, along with a few touches of fantasy and steampunk, Deadlands was quite innovative not only for its time but also for today. I think that mixture of horror and Westerns was what originally drew me to this game.
Some months ago I wrote about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain, the 1982 video game by Mattel for the Intellivision home gaming console, so it only seemed right I also come up with an article about the followup game, 1983’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin.
Right off the bat, Treasure of Tarminis graphically a massively different game than Cloudy Mountain. For one thing, most of the action is in a three-dimensional, first-person view of the various mazes the player’s character must traverse; while this wasn’t the first video game to offer first-person action (that game would be 1972’s Maze War), this viewpoint was rare at the time for video games and, looking back, seems almost an impossibility for the limits of a home console during that era. So, visually, Treasure of Tarmin offered something not quite unique but almost so to the kids sitting at home tapping away on their Intellivision controllers.
More than just graphics, however, Treasure of Tarmin offered a depth and complexity of gameplay that was not common at the time, and again was something not generally thought of as possible for a home console of that period.
Avalon Hill has long been a company known for its war gaming roots, though it has also dabbled in roleplaying games. Then there are other games. Like Gunslinger. Gunslinger is a bit different. It’s not a war game. It’s not a roleplaying game. It’s sort of both. And neither. I suppose Gunslinger could be called an Old West gunfight simulation game. So, while not exactly a war game, it is a combat game, and while not really a rpg, it does have rpg elements and something of a rpg feel to it.
Designed by Richard Hamblen and released by Avalon Hill in 1982, Gunslinger is a board game (sort of) for up to seven players, with each acting as a character in a gunfight. The game includes stiff cardboard maps, tons of cardboard cutouts, cards upon cards for character actions and results, charts and charts and more charts, and more rules than names in a telephone book (they still make those, right?). It’s already starting to sound like a tabletop rpg. Except there are no dice.
It’s funny how different tabletop roleplaying games have aged over the years. For instance, the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons & Dragons, has waxed and waned in popularity since its inception in the 1970s, but at least to the general public it has always remained synonymous with the very notion of tabletop RPGs. Other games that were popular decades ago have now been all but forgotten, sometimes even by collectors and the most hardcore of fans. Some newer games have found purchase and are readily available, while untold numbers of RPGs have been created over the decades without drawing so much as a yawn from the market.
Perhaps surprisingly, some older games that were once popular seemed to have been pretty much forgotten by any potential audience but then decades later have suddenly sprang into popularity once again. My guess would be the age of the Internet and then the rise of social media have had a lot to do with this, with older gamers gathering online to talk about or even play their favorite games while drawing in a new generation.
One such game has been the Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game from TSR Inc. Originally published in 1984 in the famous yellow box, with an advanced box set released in 1986, this RPG designed by Jeff Grub has had quite the uptick in popularity during the last handful of years. Not only are there multiple websites devoted to the game, but there are even Facebook pages and podcasts, plus YouTube videos devoted to discussing and playing the original Marvel RPG. There is even a modern version of the game (without the Marvel connection, of course) simply called FASERIPand free from Gurbintroll Games.
In many ways the early 1980s were the heyday of classic microgames, also called minigames, with the popularity of such games as Car Wars and Revolt on Antares, but those were far from the only games available. For instance, TSR Inc. made its fair share of microgames, including Viking Gods.
Published in 1982, Viking Gods allowed players to take part in the battle to end all battles, Ragnarok. A game for two players, one player took the side of the Forces of Chaos while the other player was in control of the Gods of Asgard. Each side in the battle had a mission. The job of the Forces of Chaos was to storm across the Rainbow Bridge and destroy Yggdrasil, the sacred tree. The side of the gods had the job of either killing Loki or destroying his army while defending the tree.
A somewhat simple war game, Viking Gods still packed lots of combat. All you needed were the included map, the game pieces, and a pair of six-sided dice. When it was their turn, players were allowed to move their cardboard pieces two spaces across a map until they came up against enemy forces. Then combat could begin. Using the combat chart at the bottom of the map, the dice were rolled to determine the outcome of battle. Depending upon that outcome, forces could be pushed back a space or they could be defeated, wiped out. Another option was the battle could lead to a draw.
To those of us old enough to remember, there is little doubt the king of home video game consoles in the early 1980s was the Atari 2600. However, Atari had stiff competition from Mattel Electronics in the form of the Intellivision. First released to the public in 1979, the Intellivison console was perhaps ahead of its time. The Intellivision didn’t even have a proper joystick, something almost unheard of at the time, but came with controllers that used a directional pad and a numeral keyboard. Also, the Intellivision had far superior graphics to any other consoles available when it first hit stores, and it was the first home system to utilize a 16-bit processor.
More importantly, however, was the fact the Intellivision had some darn good games. One of those games was titled Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Mattel had received a license to make AD&D video games from TSR Inc., then the owners of all things D&D, and Mattel wasted little time in bringing such games to the public. The first console game, of course, was titled Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which would be renamed a year later to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain when a sequel game was released.