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Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Adventuring on a shoestring


I have a friend who keeps telling me I should do podcasts. It’s flattering because he does a fair few himself and he’s very good at it, but the field is so crowded already. Mike and Roger on Improvised Radio Theatre With Dice, Ralph on Fictoplasm, Jeff and Hoi on Appendix N Book Club – and not forgetting Dirk the Dice on the Grognard Files.

I’m on the latest of those, mostly chatting about Dragon Warriors and Jewelspider but with a bit about the early days of roleplaying. After the discussion, an interesting point was raised about whether DW would have worked better as a single rulebook, the way games like Runequest and Champions were released at the time, rather than as six standard-format paperbacks. (We’d hoped for twelve, but that’s a detail.)

What happened in the early ‘80s was Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson had a epiphany. They could see that fantasy games potentially had a huge market but had so far failed to escape the niche of sweaty hobby shops. How to get them out of the shadows and into the mass market bookstores? The lightbulb moment must have come while playing a Fantasy Trip solo adventure. ‘Know what, lad?’ I can imagine Steve saying – or maybe it was Ian. ‘Do something like this for kids and we could have a breakout hit.’

The red-braced MBAs among you will have noticed that Ian and Steve didn’t publish Fighting Fantasy themselves, despite owning White Dwarf magazine and a chain of game stores. They pitched it to Penguin Books and lions were shook into civil streets.

Me, I just rode their coat-tails. I figured that all those tweens and teens who’d now discovered gamebooks might also be waiting for roleplaying. So Oliver Johnson and I took ourselves out to Ealing, where Transworld had their offices, and the game that was to be known as Dragon Warriors was born.

What if we had done DW as a single rulebook? I’d been working on an RPG for Games Workshop that they planned to call Adventure (yeah, not my idea) and that would have sold about 2000-5000 copies. The value to GW was mostly that they could sell figurines on the back of it. Adventure never happened because GW picked up the UK Runequest licence, but it had penetrated even my business-blind consciousness that we could sell ten times as many copies if we got a paperback RPG into high street bookshops.

And where would a chain like W H Smith have put a single-volume rulebook anyway? Not alongside the FF books that all the 10-13 year-olds were snapping up. There might have been a corner of the shop where Jane’s Fighting Ships and Formula One books were stocked. You’d never have seen it. We wouldn’t be talking about it today.

And how much would it have cost? The DW books were £1.75 each – in the mid-80s, a little less than $5. If we’d lumped the content of the six paperbacks into one durable hobby-style RPG hardback, call it £15. About fifty quid in modern money. Not a pocket money purchase, for sure.

And would Transworld have been interested? Probably not. The adult division wouldn’t believe there was a market for fantasy role-playing, the kids’ editors wouldn’t commission a £15 hardback. And if they had, Oliver and I would have got an advance of about £2000 each (that's maybe £7000 in today’s money) to keep us going for a year or more while we wrote the whole game and all the scenarios. Passion project though DW was, just to pay the bills we'd have been tempted away by gamebook contracts instead.

Would I rather have released DW as one book? Well, that’s what I was working on in Adventure. It wouldn’t have been entry-level like DW. It would have been set in the world of Medra rather than Legend. The skill system would have been more complete because it was designed as an entire system rather than piecemeal and episodic the way DW came out. There'd have been no elves or goblins.

Would that game have been as good? Apples and oranges. Single-volume RPGs back then were for the hobby market. Paperbacks like DW and FF and Maelstrom were for the mass market. I'm heartily glad that James Wallis eventually reorganized DW into a single book, and it's far easier to find the rule you want that way, but we had to follow the winding road to get to that point twenty years on.

If I'd really understood the business side of gaming at the time, though, I’d have made the rules d6-based. How many schoolkids even knew where to buy icosahedral dice, still less have the pocket money to spare? It was Britain in the ‘80s, a tatty and corruption-riddled backwater off the coast of Europe. The streets were paved with stale chewing gum and flattened fag butts. Off licences had metal grilles to stop people pinching Watneys Party Sevens. The height of dining out was a gristly steak and chips at the Berni Inn. Kids didn’t have the cash to fling at mobile phones and X-Boxes like they do today. Or did, that is, pre-Brexit.

That dice bit I’ll be fixing with Jewelspider. All you’ll need are a couple of six-siders. It’ll be a small-format book, too, though maybe I should do a hardback as well as a paperback edition if only because that will be more resistant to spilled wine and red-hot fragments of dope. Tell you what, though. It’ll be a bit more than £1.75.

38 comments:

  1. I have an email comment from Roger Bell_West that he's unable to post (gee, thanks, Blogger) so I'll paste it here:

    I wasn't the target market for Dragon Warriors.

    By the time it came out I'd played a bit of D&D and Traveller, and my dice collection (while not the monster it is now) was certainly up to supplying a few d20s and d8s. Fighting Fantasy had got started and I was enjoying those (though even then it felt different from _role-playing_, because you didn't have a human to adjudicate all the strangeness that a human could try to do). I don't think I'd met RuneQuest yet, but I'd heard of it.

    So, sure, I was a callow youth but I felt I had at least the basics of what this RPG thing was all about.

    And then this _other_ game came along and it was close enough to be recognisable but quite different in details. No mix of PC races. Monsters, sure, but monsters that had goals other than "obstruct the PCs". Something approximating a universal resolution mechanic. (Well, two of them, d20 and 2d10, but that's better than AD&D could offer.) Interesting abilities at higher level rather than merely more and crunchier spells. And a world with actual lore to it (and not the silly everything's-a-spirit worldview of RQ).

    I'd love to say I converted immediately and ran a campaign in Legend for the next ten years, but it wouldn't be true. I ran the adventures in the books and a few more. The system did its job without being revolutionary. And it was a lot easier to find things in these three, then six, books than it was in the three books of AD&D.

    (And then a few years later someone had a Blood Sword gamebook and started raving about the lore and I thought "that sounds familiar"…)

    In short: Thanks! If it had been a single book in Games Workshop I might have bought it (as I did eventually buy RQ2), but I might just have said "hmm, expensive, I'll get another AD&D module instead".

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    1. Thanks, Roger. I remember being surprised when I first tried Warlock of Firetop Mountain that you couldn’t backtrack and try other routes. I was too used to the Fantasy Trip solo modules, I guess. On reflection it was probably a stroke of genius, or at least cleverness, on Livingstone’s and Jackson’s part, as it meant they could weave in more of a story. But Steve Jackson US must have felt the same way I did, as his contribution to the series allowed greater freedom.

      Most of our Legend campaigns of the last twenty-odd years have used GURPS rather than original Dragon Warriors, as I may have said. I keep wanting to pare GURPS back to thirty skills or less and rationalize all the special cases (disadvantages, etc) into smaller groups of generic modifiers, but first I’d better finish my Jewelspider rules.

      I enjoyed the latest IRTWD. We used to have a lot of party-splitting and secret notes, and I remember one long fight (a Tekumel campaign but using GURPS again) when I was out of the room for one and half sessions. Those days might return now that it’s so easy to set up side rooms on Discord, and also easier to dip in and out of those rooms so that players who aren’t in on the main action don’t get forgotten.

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    2. Roger replies (by email):

      “I don't know how much Livingstone & Jackson were aware of the earlier contributions to solo adventures; certainly looking back on the things now I get the impression they might have seen the ‘choose-the-right-path’ books that had basically no game mechanics but were basically coming up with the rest as the series went on.

      “I like GURPS a lot, and I've written for SJ Games and hope to do so again; but even I admit that for the more mainstream styles of game (e.g. where you don't _need_ to know the sort of consistent detail that GURPS gives you in return for the time investment) a lighter and faster-moving system can be a better choice. I've been playing a bit with Genesys recently, the FFG generic system that they've now largely abandoned; the custom dice are annoying, but apart from that I rather like it, in particular the way the main rulebook has a lot of detail on how to tweak the system without breaking it.”

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    3. GURPS is usually my system of choice, though I’ve been using it a bit less over the lockdowns. I used to gripe in earnest about 3e, but 4e fixed most of the things that used to annoy me. If we leave aside all the Perks and Power-Ups and just stick to the two core books then I’m happy – mostly.

      Disadvantages bother me, especially mental disadvantages, because they fall into the category of details you expect the players to handle. Ideally, I ought to check for all phobias, flashbacks, etc, before initiating an encounter, but that slows things up too much, so I rely on the players to call out if they need to check for freezing up in combat or whatever – and often they forget (or maybe “forget”). So one possible tweak would be to just have one or two different effects in game-terms (freeze up or run for it, say) and leave the colour to the player (ie is it because of visions, fear, flashbacks, whatever).

      I’d really like to prune the skill-list because there has to be a better way than a couple of hundred special cases – maybe a hierarchical system where you could drill down through stats to something like talents to the specific skills. All of this will no doubt remain a theoretical goal. I proposed a GURPS Tekumel book to SJG in the ‘90s and (rights issues aside) that remains just notes on the backs of many envelopes...

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    4. Roger adds:

      “I think that trying to use everything (even everything in the core GURPS books) would automatically fail. On the SJGames forums we sometimes see D&Ders who are trying GURPS for the first time, asking about particular power combinations, and they get very surprised when the answer is ‘if your particular GM chooses to allow it’ rather than simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

      “I'm fortunate with my main GURPS-playing group that they're old hands who can keep their disadvantages in their heads without my having to poke at them. I've run several short demo scenarios and for those I do have a cheat sheet of PC disadvantages and when they might kick in, in part because I want to show them off.

      “I would like to use a more streamlined system. 4e did a lot about this (with e.g. standardised self-control rolls) but there are still to my mind too many special cases of traits with their own little rule packets. Some of this was an attempt to maintain broad compatibility with 3e, and I can't say that was a wrong thing to do, but if I were designing GURPS 5e I would be more willing to have a base type plus variations rather than listing each one separately. (For example, ‘Vulnerability’ is ‘a particular sort of attack does extra damage to you’ while ‘Weakness’ is ‘this normally-safe thing does damage to you’...)

      “The revelation I had a little while ago is that any trait, positive or negative, can be seen as a bid for screen time. ‘I get drunk and gamble away our pay’ is just as much making the game about _me_ as ‘I know all about explosives’. And that, I think, is one reason why GURPS has disadvantage limits.

      “I've tried a stat/skill hierarchy in a design I worked on some years ago, but I found I soon had to give up any convenient networking rules (e.g. ‘if you're defaulting a skill to a sibling skill, that's at -2’) because the organisational structure isn't ever as neat as one would like. (Also, I've read In The Land Of Invented Languages so I'm aware of the various attempts to build a taxonomy of everything that went on in Newton's time, and I get wary of projects that look like that.) First edition Paranoia has skill trees but they only break down to three levels, four in a few places.”

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    5. Hah, after 20+ years of GURPS my players ought to be better at remembering their disadvantages, but somehow they tend to forget about them when it matters. I can only assume they haven’t twigged that the disadvantages are, as you say, opportunities to grab screen time rather than outright liabilities.

      Still, I can’t blame the players when it comes to traits like Danger Sense, Sex Appeal, Detect Lies, etc, which sometimes should kick in without them having to tell me. I have them all listed on a spreadsheet, but it’s one more thing to check through in every new situation. As I get older, more of those things slip through the attention net.

      Your description of a hypothetical 5e is exactly what I’m looking for. And it occurs to me, since you have a foot in the door there at SJG, how about pitching it to them? Probably they wouldn’t want to call it 5e, with the implications of obsolescence that go with that, but as a complete-in-one-book streamlined alternative to GURPS I think there’d be plenty of takers. It’d be the new and more usable GURPS Lite, in effect. I’d certainly buy it!

      In my own RPG designs I always have to struggle with the taxonomy of skills. This goes back to my time as head librarian at school, where I chafed at the single root to any point on the shelves. Even now… do I put Maya myth books under mythology, or history, or Mesoamerican geography? Not enough dimensions! I admire the steely determination it takes to say, ‘sword skill purely derives from DX’ while in some of my own game systems (Tirikelu for example) there’s a formula involving dexterity, cleverness, strength, size… ‘K.I.S.S.!’ my conscious mind keeps shouting, but the rest of the brain has its own way of doing things and is often an unruly servant to the ego.

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    6. Roger by email again:

      “How _do_ you run a passive ability like Danger Sense, though? I mean, if this is something that works in the broad sense of giving the PC information before normal people would be aware of it, at least one of the player, the GM, or the prewritten adventure has to remember that this ability exists. (Similarly if the PC is distractingly irresistible to the appropriate sex.)

      “One approach I can think of would be to eliminate the special-purpose abilities and replace them with situational perception bonuses. So you don't have Danger Sense, you have +X to Perception for noticing an ambush. (AGE would call this an ability focus.) Someone still has to remember stuff, which is probably inevitable, but at least it all fits into a single framework.

      “Genesys splits out Perception (‘I'm looking for a thing’) from Vigilance (‘I notice a thing’), which is fun but I'm not sure how useful it is.

      “No way the kind of GURPS 5e you describe would happen. (a) if the powers that be wanted a major new ruleset they'd get someone other than me (probably Sean Punch, the only GURPS full-timer and without doubt the person who knows GURPS4 best); (b) they probably don't want to fragment the player base on rules as well as on settings, since as a generic system GURPS already suffers from not being able to sell settings or adventures to more than a small fraction of its players; (c) there's already GURPS Ultra-Lite, a single-page tiny free GURPS-like ruleset, which approximately nobody uses.

      “A while back I did propose a version of GURPS Lite for 4e (which I gather is much less popular as a stand-alone ruleset than Lite for 3e was) to make a lightweight single-purpose game, e.g. for dungeon bashing, but that never came to anything.

      “(Standard background thing, which I may have misremembered in detail but it's close to this: something like 90% of RPG sales is D&D. 90% of what's left is other dungeon-bashing games. If you try to sell something other than dungeon-bashing, you're already being fairly quixotic.)

      “One day I will probably write a set of rules that will be blatantly inspired by GURPS, and by some other things; at the moment I'm trying out other people's and seeing what works for me.

      “You’re proposing an N-dimensional taxonomy of all abilities, with Pythagorean proximity determining interactions? Yes, I can see this as a practical and achievable project – oh no not the tentacles again…

      “(Actually I wrote code for something similar a while ago, fitting people to job vacancies. The maths isn't hard. Picking the scales and rating things on them is.)”

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    7. Drifting a little off-topic here, but it occurs to me there may already be an N-dimensional map of aptitudes floating around. When the game developer where I worked was about to sign a contract with Microsoft, they insisted all the leads take a long psychometric test. You know the kind of thing with hundreds of questions – there are always a few borderline answers.

      Anyway, I took the test and got the result “game designer/architect” as my ideal career. That was lucky. But then I thought about those questions where I could have gone either way. Nudging those to the other side of the wire gave me “writer/editor”. Then when I tried a third time, being bolder with some of borderline answers, I got “engineer”.

      As those all make a certain amount of sense, it gave me some faith in a test that I had assumed was complete woo. But also it made me imagine the space in which writer, game designer and engineer are all regions with a shared boundary at one point. And whether the underlying theory could be generalized to cover all possible human activities.

      Of course, the test was only measuring my *inclination* to work in those careers, not whether I’d actually be any good at them, so it’s odd that Microsoft bothered to look at the results. (I’m reminded of a friend who took the rather less scientifically rigorous Myers-Briggs questionnaire and then told me it revealed she had strong intuition. I had to explain that it only indicated that she relied more on intuition than evidence, but that ironically she was demonstrating exactly that trait in her misinterpretation of the results!)

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    8. Roger replies:

      “Presumably all the options were things you could do within Microsoft? So that's a relatively small subset of everything. But yes, I agree, it's a very tempting sort of idea.

      “In a game system with enough attributes, ideally you'd make each attribute a separate axis, and even more ideally have them all uncorrelated with each other. For utter counsels of perfection, have some skills that benefit from a moderate attribute more than a high one -- for example you don't set very smart people as sentries, because they get bored too fast.

      “Some time last year I tried the government short questionnaire about changes of career. The top recommendation for me was ‘actor’, which, well, at least it gave Mike a good laugh.

      “I did some of the short MBTI quizzes for a few years (I'm told by people selling the long-form that the short-form is completely worthless) and found I was circling ever close to the centre of the chart. But really, anything that puts me as even slightly extroverted has got the wrong idea.”

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    9. You piqued my curiosity, Roger, so I just tried that test. Discounting “sports & leisure” careers (what on earth gave them that idea?) I got “actor”, “chief inspector”, and “technical architect”. I can see a way to combine them, but I’d need a Batcave.

      I did wonder what the Stone Age equivalent of the Microsoft questionnaire would be like, simply because a Palaeolithic tribe presumably actually had fewer distinct roles than Microsoft does. I suspect I’d be the guy who comes up with new ideas for traps but isn’t interested in actually building them. Shaman, that would do – the 30,000 BC equivalent of being an academic.

      I think my Myers-Briggs category was INTJ, but my reaction (as to most such tests) was: “Well, yes, maybe, sort of, and yet...” Belbin gave me “shaper” and “plant”. (The latter is better than it sounds, thankfully!)

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    10. And that career-change test link, for anyone who wants to try it:

      https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/skills-assessment

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    11. Roger replies:

      “I think one could make an argument for specialisation as a measure of civilisation. In the hunter-gatherer band everyone does the same thing because they have to spend most of their waking hours doing that thing to stay alive. Once you get agriculture you can start to get people who aren't agriculting all day.

      “I had hopes of MBTI as a shorthand for NPCs, but I never managed to get anywhere with it. I'm currently bashing at some notes on doing Tarot spreads to get inspiration about their personalities (trying not to make it too much like one of those ‘here's how to read the Tarot’ books even though there's clearly a lot of overlap).”

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    12. Yes, historically it wouldn’t be until we had agriculture and the surplus that goes with it that we’d really see a lot of specialization. And any specialization we see in hunter-gatherer groups is more steered by circumstance than inclination: women weave and cook because they are not as strong and agile as men, old people (as old as they get in such societies) get the reputation of wisdom and planning, and so on. Yet I’m curious about how much of our specializations descend in a hierarchy from innate proclivities. Would we be able to see an echo of the Two Cultures in the attitudes of Stone Age tribespeople? Would we identify some as introverts and some as extraverts? Or is all that socially conditioned?

      Funnily enough I used to do Tarot readings in the JCR for anyone who bought me afternoon tea. Naturally they’d all say, “But you’re an arch-rationalist, surely you don’t believe in this stuff?” And I’d assure them there was absolutely nothing supernatural about it. I’d present them with the cards, make a few suggestions, they would supply everything themselves – and they’d go away saying, “That’s uncanny!” Yet it wasn’t even at the level of a magician’s cold reading. I’d just be nudging them to realize what was already in their subconscious – or perhaps I should say, the decisions they’d already taken that their conscious mind hadn’t yet been told about.

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  2. Happy new year Dave !
    + if DW had been published as a single book as a "normal" RpG, it might not have been translated into French and distributed by Gallimard (Folio Junior) which overflooded the Francophone market with its gamebooks....

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    1. Happy New Year, Olivier. I mentioned Gallimard in the Grognard Files podcast, and it's a good point that applies to all the non-UK rights for fantasy game-related books back then. Publishers were buying paperbacks; they wouldn't have been interested in a big hardback, and without foreign rights sales any UK series would have struggled to keep going.

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  3. I've said many times that the reason I got into Dragon Warriors was the format. I was 11. I got $2 a week pocket money (here in Australia). I was playing D&D, but a single D&D scenario cost $14. An AD&D rulebook (which I wanted) was $40. There's a reason I still remember those numbers - it's because these things were unobtainable.

    So finding an RPG that was selling for $4 a book at my local bookshop with both rules and scenarios... it was incredible. My Dad thought so as well - he doubled my pocket money so I could buy a book every week, and that's how I got one, two, and three - four, five, and six (especially five) would have to wait for later. Anything to stop me begging for D&D books :)

    I already had polyhedral dice - I'd been surprised when I was seven to discover my Mother (my Mother of all people!) knew where to buy them - so never had to search these out, but they weren't hard to get here, and they were things I used to get other kids interested in playing ("Check out these weird dice") so they had advantages as well as disadvantages.

    DW became my favourite RPG because of the quality of the scenarios, the simplicity of the rules (compared to AD&D anyway), and the world - the wonderful, wonderful world. It's still my favourite RPG nearly 35 years later. But if it had been another big book on the Mind Games shelf, rather than little paperbacks at Robinson's Bookshop - I doubt I'd have ever really looked at it.

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    1. Marvellous memories! Thanks for sharing those, Shaun. And you're saying that, thanks to me and Oliver, your pocket money was doubled overnight? Right, if we ever meet up in person you can get the first round...

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  4. I've got to say, Dragon Warriors was my gateway into RPGs generally. I picked up my first copy from the local library under the misapprehension that it was a gamebook like Fighting Fantasy and Way of the Tiger. I was hooked immediately, and all my early forays into RPG were Dragon Warriors.

    And like Shane, I would probably have passed it by completely if it hadn't been in that format. Also, I rather liked the modular approach it took. Book 1 gave you a simple set of starting rules (combat only, more or less), Book 2 expanded this into magic, and between them and Book 3, then Book 4 into Assassins and Stealth and so forth. And much as I like the revised core rulebook, I think it would have been way too much for my eight-year old mind to cope with!

    I loved the illustrations, too - especially the cartoon for combat featuring Sir Balin. Ah, happy memories!

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    1. I'm just hoping nobody bought DW expecting a gamebook and felt cheated!

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    2. It's more likely with the Gallimard books. I think the DW books shared a trade dress with Fighting Fantasy?

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    3. Not quite, but there could have been confusion. I think all the Gallimard gamebooks were published under the title "Un livre dont vous êtes le héros" whereas Les Terres de Légende was blazoned with "Un jeu dont vous êtes le héros". Easy to miss the difference!

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    4. Très bien Dave, "jeu" instead of "livre"; however I hope there were few confusions among buyers. Folio Junior included plenty of series, not only Fighting Fantasy but also Lone Wolf, etc... Nearly all from Britain before they released a few - excellent - French-made ones like Les Voyageurs du Temps and Défis et Sortilèges. At the supermarket, most teens like me would peruse them while their parents were doing their purchases.
      The only case of confusion I know of concerns another series : Gallimard published under the same format the scenarios of "L'Œil Noir/das Schwarze Auge/the Dark Eye" (while, as far as I know, the rules were sold in special cartoon boxes) and the relatives of an another teenager of my school thought the beautiful cover by Ina Kramer was that of an adventure novel, not a scenario....

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    5. I should may be clarify that by "picked up" I mean literally "lifted off the shelf". It didn't take long to spot that it wasn't a gamebook (No numbered paragraphs, for one thing!). I was fascinated. I was already playing through the Bloodsword books with my parents(!), so I guess the idea of multiplayer games was already in the mix for me... Dragon Warriors just explained how to do that without a pre-defined path, and in that sense, it delivered in spades.

      On a related note, it blew my mind when I discovered that Lands of Legend had a Krarth and a Kingdom of Wyrd in the setting. I sort of couldn't get my head round the idea that two different book series (by the same authors, even) could share a setting.

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    6. Olivier, you've reminded me that Transworld considered publishing a UK edition of The Dark Eye in the mid-'80s. "It outsells D&D in Germany," they said. I countered with: "You already publish Dragon Warriors. How many RPGs do you want?" But that presumably was a single large-format book.

      Ray, I think Jamie and Mark were the first to share their world across multiple series. The world of Orb was the setting for Talisman of Death (FF #11), Way of the Tiger, and at least one of the Duel Master books.

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    7. Yes, I nearly mentioned the crossover to Orb in Talisman of Death! It threw me completely. I though it was some kind of bizarre coincidence!

      Mind you, at that point I thought *all* the FF books were written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston. It didn't help that when I'd looked into the "Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone presents" on my copy of Robot Commando, it clearly stated it was written by Steve Jackson. I hadn't twigged that there was more than one.

      I was baffled by how Steve Jackson managed to run Games Workshop and Steve Jackson Games at the same time. What can I say? I was very young...

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    8. To be fair, that is one of the maddest coincidences in history. Two Steve Jacksons, both mavens of game design, both running games companies, both writing solo gamebooks... It's a clear glitch in the Matrix!

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    9. I don't remember if I already mentionned it on that blog, but Fanpro (the present copyrightholder of DSA) released some time ago a very long video series on the game; since I am partly fluent in German, I had already watched the first épisodes with interviews of Werner Füchs, the sole surviving "founding father" (behind his late brother-in-law Ulrich Kiesow; I just see they've made a version with French subtitles : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5I_zIYVGm4&vl=fr )
      In Germany, they were supported by Schmidt Spiele who could afford a huge advertizing campaign, and that's why they could outnumber by far D&D in their country; however, they were submitted to huge time constraints and that's why their products were of such... variable quality.
      The French version was the first Rpg I ever played, and while Dragon Warriors is more "consistent" and "even", the Dark Eye (I mean its first version, for it has changed a lot now....) has both huge attractive aspects (its vivid atmosphere with a mix of both childish and adult themes) and drawbacks (oh, these rules....)
      I think the French edition took back the German format : rulebooks sold separately in cartoon boxes with dice and paper stand-ups, GM-screen... Economically riskier...

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    10. I must have read the English translation at Transworld's offices -- Oliver worked there and asked my opinion on it. But I don't remember anything about the system or background. The mix of childish and adult themes sounds intriguing.

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    11. Ah, "die Tochter des Kalifen" where you must solve a riddle about the Smurfs and can watch a near-nude dance of the seven veils (the final picture was removed from the French version....)

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    12. On this Dutch site, they've just unearth that old add... I must say I haven't ever seen a RpG player wearing a tie... : https://www.hetoogdesmeesters.com/2021/01/een-spel-voor-deze-tijd/

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    13. That's certainly not a familiar look around our table. Even when players come straight from the office [note to younger readers: office = a place of work before the 2020 pandemic] they get changed before we start playing.

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  5. And Talisman of Death is still far and away the best FF gamebook. You’ll be pleased to hear Dave that my awesome brother gifted me with both your Heart of Ice and Redeemer (the long awaited Book 7 of the Way of the Tiger)... He really will deserve his copy of Jewelspider when it’s done!

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    1. I keep coming back to the idea of a Heart of Ice RPG, Nigel -- but how often can you destroy the world? And I do have Jewelspider, Abraxas and Tetsubo to finish first.

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  6. I got into rpgs through the board game Heroquest and Fighting Fantasy books as well as the Advanced Fighting Fantasy rpg books which I did own all of at one point! I got the first 3 DW books in a 2nd hand book shop while on holiday in Scotland in my teens. I then picked up the hardback edition some years ago f4om a gaming shop in Leeds. Last year I finally got to play in a Dragon Warrior campaign (Grims one he streamed online, I player the monk Brother Abbas) last year and had fine of fun. I like it because it's different to other rpgs and the background is richer and has a more mythological feel to it to me

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    1. And I think you're planning a campaign this year, Ian?

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    2. That looked like a fantastic campaign, largely thanks to Grim's GMing and a great group of players. And maybe DW helped a bit :-)

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    3. It was one of the best rpg campaigns I've played in. Yes at some point this year I do plan on running a DW campaign myself. I'm starting to play in a dark age vampire campaign from next Saturday night that's going to be run by one of the other players from Grims DW campaign. The chap who played the assassin.

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  7. I just found the perfect summary of the bookstore part of the equation:

    "In my local bookstore, the D&D section is in the oversized books aisle, under the manga and graphic novels. The fantasy novels are in the paperback fiction section, several aisles away and never the twain shall meet. Over by the D&D shelf you’ll see the D&D geeks. In the fantasy aisle there’s the students, goth chics, housewives, businessmen and, well, everyone else – all potential role-playing gamers if only the role-playing games were there!!!! In 1985, they were, and it was called Dragon Warriors."

    https://greywulf.cf/2008/08/16/dragon-warriors-day-two/

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