The combat mechanic was simple: attacker rolls 1d20 and adds his Attack score, and must beat his opponent’s Defence score +11. Yes, it could have been tidied up. But it was neat and quick and it worked. Magic was a little more involved, with ingredients and spellpoints, but nothing a bit of playtesting couldn’t fix. Crucially, sorcerers were powerful but not the artillery units they were in other games. They needed a bunch of grogs to protect them.
Over the years, I’ve decided that my three requirements in a set of RPG rules are that they need to be:
SimpleMortal Combat succeeded pretty well on the first two counts. It failed totally on the last, because it didn’t make any attempt to cover anything except combat and magic. But it must have had something going for it, because it got some very good reviews and it brought us to the attention of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson at Games Workshop. They were looking to do a rival to Dungeons & Dragons, which GW had been printing and distributing under license from TSR. They could see it was only a matter of time before TSR set up their own UK operation, and their magazine White Dwarf gave them the perfect platform to establish their own role-playing game. “Do us something like this,” said Livingstone, waving a copy of Mortal Combat. That's what they were after, that Barton Fink feeling.
Everyone around the table should get the basics. They need to be able to work out their own character sheet, not require Excel and a mathematical expert to help them.
Getting sucked into simulation-game details kills the flow of the story. Rather than a system that models every possible combat manoeuvre, I’d rather it did the job on a semi-abstract level and left it to the player to interpret what happened.
The rules need to be able to cover everything, however vaguely. Anything left undefined is subject to the whim of the umpire (or referee – don’t call them “game master”) and that’s too much power. Though the ideal game is a contract between umpire and players and shouldn’t need constant dice-rolling, players must always have the option of letting the rules decide an outcome.
They wanted to call it Adventure so that the ads in White Dwarf could read: "Are you ready for... Adventure?" Like a pun, you see? Yeah, well. I got cracking on faith and a handshake. No wait, I never did get even the handshake, come to think of it. But that was a good thing – my naivety saved me from contractual mire. You see, Games Workshop did lose the D&D license, as they’d anticipated, but before I had finished designing the new game (I could never bring myself to call it Adventure) they acquired the RuneQuest license. Adventure was never mentioned again.
I remember saying to Ian Livingstone: “It’s interesting working on a project like this. Just about the time you’re finishing, you see how you should have done it.” That turned out to be prophetic. A few years later, as the gamebook craze took flight (largely thanks to Messrs Livingstone and Jackson) publishers were willing to commission anything with “fantasy” and “role-playing” in the description. I dusted off Adventure, reworked it, and Oliver Johnson and I pitched it to Transworld Publishing, nowadays a division of Random House. And that was how Dragon Warriors came to be.