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Author: Ty Johnston

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.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin video game for the Intellivision console

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin video game for the Intellivision console

Box art for the Intellivision video game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin.

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 Tarmin is 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.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly … of Gunslinger

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly … of Gunslinger

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.

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Blast from the Past: Marvel Super Heroes RPG

Blast from the Past: Marvel Super Heroes RPG

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 FASERIP and free from Gurbintroll Games.

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Viking Gods: Big battles on a small scale

Viking Gods: Big battles on a small scale

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.

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Video game history: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for Intellivison

Video game history: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for Intellivison

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.

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Early Competition for D&D: DragonQuest

Early Competition for D&D: DragonQuest

Throughout the 1970s and very early 1980s, Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) was a company known for its board war games. Then in 1980 it took a stab at the growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons and other popular tabletop role-playing games. SPI came up with a different style of fantasy RPG known as DragonQuest (DQ), published in a boxed set with multiple books.

Eventually there would be three versions of DQ. SPI published a second edition in 1982 in a single book, but soon after the company was purchased by TSR, the developers of D&D. Eventually in 1989 TSR would produce the final, third edition of DQ, this one also in a single book, but since then they have done next to nothing with the property though they did release a few gaming modules for the system. Fortunately a few other companies also released DQ-related material and to this day there is a somewhat active DQ community online. As for the three versions of the game, they are pretty much compatible with few differences between them, especially between the second and third editions.

Created by Eric Goldberg, later known for his role in the publication of the tabletop RPG Paranoia and numerous other games both at the table and online, DragonQuest separated itself from D&D and its imitators by not focusing so much upon a class system for character creation and advancement. Instead, characters in DQ were mostly based upon growth in skill rankings.

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Start Your Engines… for Car Wars

Start Your Engines… for Car Wars

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the old TSR minigame Revolt on Antares, and that got me thinking about other microgames which were popular back in ye olden days, and that brought to mind one of my favorites, Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games, published in 1981, a vehicle combat game.

If you ever wanted to take part in the fast-driving, hard-hitting action of the Mad Max universe where guns and cars ruled the roads, and the plains and the deserts and the … etc., then you would do well to buckle in and pick up one of the versions of Car Wars which has been made available over the years.

But my first love was the original Car Wars which came in a small, black plastic box, though there were copies of the game which came in just a plastic bag (but who would want that when you could get your hands on a cool plastic pocket box, as they were called?).

The action came in various scenarios from arena battles to highway combat against marauders and the like, and that original pocket box included everything needed to get you on the road to war. Included were the six-sided dice needed for the game, a rules book, maps, vehicle sheets, and cardboard counter pieces of vehicles, road hazards, and more.

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Revolt on Antares: Small but Packed with Thrills… and Memories

Revolt on Antares: Small but Packed with Thrills… and Memories

The rulebook for Revolt on Antares

A couple of weeks ago here at Black Gate, I wrote about the 1983 tabletop roleplaying game Lords of Creation, created by the late Tom Moldvay. Unfortunately, while listing some of Mr. Moldvay’s works, I left out a small but important game, Revolt on Antares.

Published in 1981 by TSR, the producers of Dungeons & Dragons at that time, Revolt on Antares was a minigame, sometimes referred to as a microgame, which were popular at the time. Other minigames of the period included Vampyre and Viking Gods, both from TSR, and such games as Ogre and Car Wars, each produced by Steve Jackson Games. These were just a few of the minigames available back then, and for a time in the early ’80s minigames brought a fair amount of business for game publishers.

As for Revolt on Antares, it was a simple war game made for two to four players. The game took place on the planet of Imirrhos, also known by the name of Antares 9, the ninth planet in the Antares solar system. All that was needed for play was the short, simple rule book, the included map, and two six-sided dice, also included. Oh, and I can’t forget the cardboard playing pieces, referred to in the rule book as counters, especially as there were three types: troops, leaders, and artifacts.

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Lords of Creation: A Tabletop RPG before its Time

Lords of Creation: A Tabletop RPG before its Time

Throughout the decades, game company Avalon Hill has been associated with tabletop war gaming, and this was especially true in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the company has been known to dip into other types of games, mainly board games of one stripe or another and sometimes even tabletop role-playing games.

One of Avalon Hill’s earliest tabletop RPGs was Lords of Creation, published in 1983 and written by Tom Moldvay, known for his earlier work on Dungeons & Dragons.

Lords of Creation is very much a game of its time, but in many way it’s also a game ahead of its time. The D&D influence is obvious in the mechanics, especially concerning character and monster stats, but this game was one of the earliest to stretch beyond the boundaries of any single genre. Lords of Creation wasn’t just a fantasy tabletop RPG, but was meant to be a game for all genres, including science fiction, mythology, noir, and more. In fact, the back of the game box reads, “The ultimate role-playing game… a game of science, fantasy, science fiction and high adventure that explores the farthest reaches of your imagination! Splendid adventures take place throughout time, space and other dimensions.”

I didn’t get many chances back in the day to play Lords of Creation, probably because it wasn’t the most popular game around even if it has something of a collector’s following nowadays. Still, the few times I played the game, it was a blast, in no small part because of Moldvay’s ingenuity in making Lords of Creation something unique, at least for the time period of its original publication.

The box itself for the game is somewhat large for a tabletop RPG, though was typical for the Avalon Hill war games of the time. Upon opening the box, one finds a 64-page rule book, a 64-page The Book of Foes (you D&D players will recognize this as similar to a Monster Manual), a Game Catalog of everything Avalon Hill had to offer at the time, and three dice, a D20, a D10, and a D6, everything you need to play the game.

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Rogue Blades Presents: All Good Things Must Come to a … Change!

Rogue Blades Presents: All Good Things Must Come to a … Change!

All good things must come to an end. Sort of. Kind of. But not exactly.

This will be my last Rogue Blades article for Black Gate. This doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere. No. One of my articles will still be here every other Friday. And no, I’m not stepping down as vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit which focuses on all things heroic, especially heroic literature.

What is changing is that the Rogue Blades Foundation and its for-profit publishing side, Rogue Blades Entertainment, will be coming together on a new Web site, Rogue Blades. The new site will not only feature news about both sides of this publishing venture, but will also present weekly articles from a variety of writers, including myself. So I’ll be penning articles about the heroic over at Rogue Blades.

As for my future here at Black Gate, as mentioned above, I’ll keep writing articles here, but now I’ll have more freedom to write about other topics, many which might be related to heroic literature but not necessarily.

As for what I’ll be writing here, I’ve a number of subjects I’d like to cover. For instance, I’ve long been a fan of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct police procedural novels, and I’m considering a series on each of those books, though at 55 novels and a handful of shorter works, I have to admit that’s a rather daunting task. Other subjects I’d like to tackle are older tabletop role playing games that don’t see as much love as I’d like; Dungeons & Dragons is well covered online and even Star Frontiers has received some recent love here at Black Gate, but I’d like to take a look back at such games as Dragonquest, Lords of Creation, Car Wars and the original Deadlands, plus others as they come to mind. It’s also possible, even likely, I’ll sometimes write about fiction I’m reading or movies or shows I’m watching.

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