Not all nostalgia trips are created equal. Revisiting a favorite movie or an old neighborhood or some childhood hobby is a great way to reignite that sense of wonder most of us had when we were younger. It’s a way of seeing subtle magic that either fades or is drummed out of us as we grow older.
But just about everyone who frequents this site already knows that there’s a very dark underside to nostalgia, the sort of thing that breeds resentment and a perpetual backward glance. The sort of nostalgia that brings no joy or sense of wonder. The sort of nostalgia that becomes a destructive addiction.
I’m talking about the people who have been collecting comic books since they were children, but haven’t read one in years, just buying and bagging them, stuffing them in boxes never to be seen until they die and their relatives go through their stuff. I’m talking about the Star Trek fans who haven’t enjoyed an episode of the show for decades, but continue watching it regularly, just so they can post another Youtube video about how much the franchise sucks since its “glory days.” I’m talking about music fans who haven’t listened to a new band since they were in college, just replaying the same few hundred albums over and over again, convinced that nothing new is good. And I’m talking about “old school gamers” who never play the game any longer and only post long rants about how the game has grown too P.C., too woke, or too whatever the latest term for “politics that are different from mine.”
I discovered the OSR (Old School Revival, if you didn’t know) movement a few years ago. And while there certainly are the usual trolls that younger gamers would expect to find there, a lot of it is surprisingly forward-looking. Sure, a lot of OSR enthusiasts insist on playing first edition Dungeons & Dragons just as it was written forty-plus years ago. But plenty of others have taken that bedrock of a rule system and cleaned it up, stripping out what they don’t like and adding in new innovations.
Five Parsecs from Home and Five Leagues From the Borderlands (Modiphius, 2021 and 2022). Covers by Christian Quinot
Modiphius Entertainment was launched in 2012 by husband and wife gamers Rita and Chris Birch to publish Achtung! Cthulhu, a game that remains near and dear to my heart (you know anything featuring Nazi supervillains, Cthulhu, and roleplaying is going to get some love in these quarters). But in the decade since they founded their unassuming little gaming company it’s captured the attention of the entire industry with a litany of innovative and exciting titles, including Coriolis: The Third Horizon, Alien RPG, Forbidden Lands, Star Trek Adventures, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, and much, much more.
Their newest releases, Five Parsecs from Home and Five Leagues From the Borderlands, may be their best yet — at least for product-staved solitaire gamers like me. These are finely crafted solo adventures games with rich narrative campaigns that allow you to explore exotic locales, earn experience and level up your team, find exotic gear, trade, and even upgrade your starship or hideout. They’re the most exciting solitaire gaming releases of the last few years, and that’s saying something.
Happy New Year, fantasy gamers! If you’re like me, all your resolutions this year involve trying new games. At least two dozen. And maybe a truckload of snack foods.
Yeah, but which games? There’s a ton to choose from. Fortunately Chaosium has made it a little bit easier — by publishing their newest RuneQuestsolo adventure online completely free. And also structuring it so that you can learn the rules as you play! The title is The Battle of Dangerford, and it really is a simple as it sounds:
Learn to play RuneQuestin the best way possible — by playing! The Battle of Dangerford is a single-player scenario designed to teach you the rules of the game as you play. Take on the role of Vasana as she joins her Sartarite brothers and sisters in an epic clash against the invading Lunar Empire.
Get all the details below — or jump right in here!
100: Well, howdy there, Friend! Let me ask you a question. Do you or a spouse struggle with Character Development Mania, known more commonly as CDM? Oh, I hear you, Friend. It’s not easy to admit it when you have a problem and need help. But you can trust me, I’m in sales! This sounds serious. Tell me more about CDM! Continue from 230. This doesn’t sound like a real thing. Continue from 350. I’m mostly here for the fiction and game stuff, not the writing advice. Continue from 410.
Hello, Friend! Are you a writer who struggles with Scene Development Instability, sometimes called SDI? I know, it can be hard to talk about in public, but let me reassure you, Friend, that SDI can be treated!
Great, tell me more! Read on from 400. I’m not actually a Writer! Read on from 300. I only write short stories, so I’m immune to SDI. Read on from 200.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know we’re big fans of solo role playing games here at Black Gate. Whenever someone asks me for a superior modern example, I point them without hesitation to Dark City Games.
George Dew and his talented team of writers and artists at Dark City Games have been producing high quality solitaire fantasy and science fiction games for nearly two decades. They started with programmed adventures in the mold of The Fantasy Trip classics like Death Test, and soon graduated to much more sophisticated fare. Their games include ambitious fantasy epics likes The Island of Lost Spells (which I reviewed as Todd McAulty in Black Gate 10), and The Sewers of Redpoint, exciting SF fare like Void Station 57 and At Empire’s End, a line of Untamed West western adventures, and even tactical wargames set in WWII. Howard Andrew Jones took a fond look at their early catalog back in 2008, and we even published a free Dark City sample adventure titled S.O.S. in 2010.
Whether you’re a new gamer curious about role playing who wants to dip your toe in at your own pace, an experienced player looking for a real challenge, or just someone looking for a great bargain, Dark City has a game for you. Have a look at their catalog here, and try a game or two for just ten bucks each. And tell them Black Gate sent you!
Rebuild Civilization on a Savage and Alien Earth in Midnight Legion from Studio 9
Midnight Legion box set from Studio 9 (2016). Art by C. Aaron Kreader.
It’s been a busy year, between changing jobs in April, managing a fledging writing career as Todd McAulty, running Black Gate, and coping with a pandemic. I don’t get to read as much as I used to, and I definitely don’t get to game as much. I especially regret not having the chance to dig into some of the new generation of solo RPGs, like Four Against Darkness and Into the Dungeon.
But I did spend a few shekels to try Midnight Legion, a very promising post apocalyptic solo gamebook series with a strong Metamorphosis Alpha vibe. Created by writer Aaron J. Emmel and artist C. Aaron Kreader and published by Evanston, Illinois-based Studio 9, Midnight Legion is a three-book series featuring an amnesiac android who awakens on a vastly changed Earth peopled with strange creatures and deadly mutant plants, and must piece together the clues to his original mission. You get everything you need to start in the intro Midnight Legion box set, published in 2016 with this description on the back:
You are an elite, android agent of an ancient, clandestine group who is forced awake after hundreds of years of stasis.Your memory is gone, and you can’t recall your purpose.You will need to solve puzzles and choose whether to use combat, stealth, or sixth sense and diplomacy to unlock your mission and the secrets of the world you knew.
The Midnight Legion is an interactive story where player(s) choose how to respond to what happens next. Created for solo play, with a 2-player option, this three book game series promises hours of gaming. Starting with Book 1: Operation Deep Sleep, everything you need to begin is contained in this boxed set.
The second gamebook, The World Reborn followed in 2017, and the final volume Portal of Life in 2019. Together they form an ambitious and compelling science fiction adventure that I’m anxious to dig into.
I miss walking the crowded aisles at Gen Con. In fact, these days I wonder if we’ll ever see something like the vast Exhibit Hall of Gen Con ever again. Hundreds and hundreds of vendors proudly displaying wares, and tens of thousands of eager gamers, all crammed into a vast indoor space bigger than a football stadium. And I do mean crammed — sometimes those narrow aisles were so packed you could barely move.
Just the thought of that makes my skin crawl these days. Talk about a potential pandemic superspreader event. You could take out an entire generation of gamers in 72 hours. Yiiiii.
Like all major social gatherings this year, Gen Con 2020 was canceled. But that’s okay. Truth be told, I’m still processing the hundreds of photos I took as I wandered the Hall in awe the year before. The impossibly large Gen Con Exhibit Hall is something every gamer should experience at least once, if only to get a sense of the vast scale and enormous creative energy in our hobby. It’s been fourteen months, and I’m still a little overwhelmed by the experience.
I’ve slowly been processing it all by writing about the games that most impressed me, like Alien: The Roleplaying Game, The City of Kings, Escape the Dark Castle, and Heroes of Land, Air & Sea. And now we come at last to one of the most visually impressive titles on my list, Posthuman Saga by Mighty Boards, which throws players into a beautifully designed and adventure-filled post apocalyptic world.
In 1978 Robert Clardy released his first computer game, Dungeon Campaign, for the Apple II. Dungeon Campaign, and Don Worth’s beneath Apple Manor, are widely regarded as the very first personal computer role playing games. While greatly inspired by pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons, there were no proven concepts or templates to work from, and it was very much a trial and error effort to figure out what features and elements would work, and not least what was achievable with the limited technology at the time. Today these pioneering games might seem extremely primitive and somewhat quirky, especially from what we now perceive as the standard template in computerized versions of role playing games, but at the time they were truly innovative.
In the mid-’70s computers, how they were used, and who had access to them, started to significantly change. The landscape was starting to move away from mainframes, which took up entire rooms or even floors, to hobby kits that with the right skillset could be turned into a more or less useful (or useless) device, to an environment where non-technical users could buy an off the shelf personal computer powerful enough to run somewhat sophisticated software.
This change in computing can very much be credited to the 1977 Personal Computer trifecta, the year we tend to refer to as the birth year of the personal computer as we know it. It was the year Commodore, Apple and Tandy Radio Shack all released their own take on accessible personal computers. These machines were not only powerful enough to be useful, they were also mass-produced and marketed to the average consumer, who frequently lacked the technical skillset earlier machines required.
The advent of computer role playing games, especially on mainframes and later personal computers, has its roots in the remarkable human nature to innovate – making machines do something they were never intended for. People with access to these mysterious computer colossuses quickly saw the potential for more than just boring analytics and data-crunching.
I’m old enough to remember when Choose Your Own Adventure books first appeared in bookstores and supermarkets in the late 70s and early 80s, and what a sensation they created.
I remember thinking how simplistic they were, especially compared to the more sophisticated solitaire fare already available in gaming stores at the time. Like Rick Loomis’ groundbreaking Buffalo Castle (Flying Buffalo, 1976), the first solo adventure for Tunnels & Trolls (and considered by some to be the first published adventure gamebook, period); Steve Jackson’s bestselling Death Test for The Fantasy Trip (Metagaming, 1978); and especially Jeffrey C. Dillow’s brilliant collection of early solo adventures, Wizards and Warriors (Prentice Hall, 1982), which I played to death and passed around repeatedly to my gaming group.
But there was something powerfully appealing in the very simplicity of Choose Your Own Adventure titles, and it didn’t take long for me to become a convert. I wasn’t the only one. Bantam published its first Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Cave of Time by creator Edward Packard, in 1979, and the series quickly surpassed role playing in popularity, selling more than 250 million copies. That’s more — far more — than virtually any RPG or fantasy or series in history. (For comparison, The Lord of the Ringshas sold 150 million copies over the past 70 years, and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels a scant 90 million. Only J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, at 500 million, offer real competition). Bantam produced 184 titles in the series between 1979 and 1998.
Role Playing has evolved and expanded enormously since the 70s. You can’t say the same of Choose Your Own Adventure… but the franchise isn’t as dead as you might think. Most interesting to serious games is a pair of cooperative adventure board games released by Z-Man Games that capture the spirit of the CToA line, and take it in some intriguing new directions.