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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Old school games I never played.

Back in the 80's I was a teenager in a rural area of upstate New York. My friends and I were big fans of D&D starting in about 1980. However, since we were teens, we didn't have an unlimited cash supply to buy new games or gaming supplements. We focused on getting D&D stuff and tried to avoid too much replication of items in our collective gaming inventory.

Slight rant here- Why don't kids these days work? I never knew anyone in the 1980's that just got money for nothing from their parents. I mean, sure, birthdays occasionally visits with grandparents and maybe Christmas netted some free cash, but mostly we worked for our gaming dollars. Farm work, apple picking at the orchards, odd jobs when people needed some help. I used to get paid like five dollars for taking care of my neighbor's pets when they were on vacation. Splitting and stacking firewood, along with a variety of household chores was how I earned my allowance of five dollars a week as a teenager. Seeking out other opportunities to make money was pretty common for us teens at the time. If we wanted something we earned the money to purchase it or we went without. Except for Christmas and birthdays, but those are always iffy on whether or not you are going to get what you asked for. Rarely one of our parents would buy an item and then let you work it off with extra chores. We also walked or rode our bikes places. Now I see kids needing a ride everywhere. I never got a ride for anything less than an hour's walk away. My parent's time was important, it had value of it's own and us kids would never have dreamed of asking them to drop whatever they were doing so we could have a ride to our friend's house on the spur of the moment.

Now get off my lawn! -end rant here

The nearest city to us was Oswego, NY (famous now mostly for SUNY Oswego, alma mater of Al Roker and Star Trek actress Robin Curtis. Jerry Seinfeld also briefly attended) at roughly 12 miles from my house. Oswego did not have any place that had D&D stuff, beyond the Basic set, for most of the 1980's. There was a place called "The Book Cellar" in Fulton, NY (11 miles south of Oswego) that had some D&D stuff, including many of the "Gold Box" sets of Grenadier's official AD&D line of miniatures. I bought several sets there before the place closed.

Other than that you had to go to Syracuse (40+ miles south) to find D&D stuff, which I found in various malls in the Syracuse area and eventually at the nerd mecca of New York state "Twilight Book and Game Emporium". Twilight is sadly closed now, but in the 80's it was awesome, a combination Science Fiction bookstore/Comic shop/Wargame and RPG store. With lots of miniatures. Plus, it was literally around the corner from the pretty awesome "1/2 Price Book Warehouse" which, unsurprisingly, was literally an old warehouse chock full of books on pretty much every topic sold at 1/2 price or less. At the height of awesome in the late 1980's there was also, on the next block over, "Midway Hobbies" which kind of took Twilight's wargame and wargaming section and expanded it into an entire other store.

I am sad to see Twilight gone, but at least it didn't have to exist long enough to be associated with that literary abortion of the same name. So that's good I suppose. I also would not really want to keep trekking into that neighborhood anymore, it has gone dramatically downhill. It's successor stores aren't nearly as cool though.

Anyway, enough setting the scene here, it was a giant pain in the ass to get game stuff and our hard earned gaming dollars were largely spent on D&D and stuff for D&D, mostly miniatures and Dragon Magazines. Some modules. Most of us didn't have all of the books. Some of us didn't even have Player's Handbooks of our own. Kaybee toys filled up my D&D inventory when they would periodically purge the D&D stuff they had from the shelves and I'd buy old modules for like fifty cents a piece and boxed sets for like two dollars, this continued through the 2nd edition era. I also sometimes got Avalon Hill or SPI games there really cheap.

What I wanted to talk about was the rest of the games out there that I never had a chance to play. In many cases I was aware of these other games. I made my first (and only) Traveller character in the cafeteria at lunch time when I was in 7th grade. I never got to play him, but at least I got to check out the classic Traveller game a little. Some games from the early days weren't so lucky. My first Superhero game was Marvel Super Heroes from TSR. I was aware of Champions and Villains and Vigilantes, mostly from ads in the Dragon, but I never got to play them. Or see them really. Not until much later, when my friends and I started purchasing "old" games that we'd missed out on.

Some old games I got to see or read or make characters for only because my friend Darryl's dad, Big Darryl, was a gamer himself and had an adult's spending money for his hobby. He preferred wargames, but in the interest of having a common interest with his sons and their friends and considering that the wargamer/RPGer split wasn't really there yet, he bought and played a wide variety of games. Usually we'd play any given game once with him, then it'd just go into the library. We had full access to the library though and played some games repeatedly regardless of whether or not we really "got" the game. Pendragon is a great example of us playing a game the way it wasn't really intended to be played. We played it as if it were D&D with a variant combat system. Sorry Pendragon, you deserved better.

Superheroes were not Big Darryl's thing though so we never got any of those games added to the library. There was a great flowering of RPGs in the mid-1980's and most of them never got seen or played by me or my buddies. Science fiction games suffered there, except for FASA's Star Trek RPG (Big Darryl was a Star Trek fan from the dawn of time, so pretty much that entire line made it into his library.) and TSR's Star Frontiers which me and my poor teen-aged friends bought into for some Sci-Fi fun and only played a couple of times. West End's Star Wars game doesn't really make the cut-off for early games in my estimation because it was released in 1987 and I graduated from high school that year along with most of my gaming buddies, so we entered the world of "adult gamer" there. We did get pretty much every fantasy RPG that was commonly available though, except RuneQuest, and several that were less than common, like DragonQuest.

Getting back on topic, I never played much else besides D&D, even if we bought it, except Dawn Patrol, we played the hell out of that game and we played it as an RPG. Darryl lived 16 miles from my house and his dad lived a few miles further away (after he moved back to the area, before that he lived in Plattsburgh, then Utica; I really didn't get to know him until he moved back to area though) so his library wasn't always immediately available.

If I keep getting ramble-ey and off topic it's because my elderly mastiff keeps wandering in and demanding attention, she's a good girl. I also stopped for lunch and a phone call from my mom.

We kids bought most of what TSR had to offer Gamma World being the chief exception there and it doesn't really make sense because there were conversion rules for Gamma World in the DM's Guide. We bought and played Boot Hill, not very much, but we had fun with it. Darryl even ran a cross-over to AD&D with it. Actually it was AD&D characters crossing over to Boot Hill. I bought Marvel Super Heroes when it came out and only Darryl and I played it at the time really. My wife likes it though, due to her having had an awesome campaign of it when she was in college before I met her. We tried playing in the early 90's, before she was my girlfriend even, and it wasn't that great. Some games only work because of the group you are playing with or the time period in which you played it. Playing MSH in the 90's with our D&D group just wasn't the same as it had been in the past for either of us. Star Frontiers was Tim's baby, he bought both boxed sets and kind of jealously guarded them. He ran just one adventure for me and Lance. I played it maybe twice with Darryl and that crew, his dad GMing. We did play some starship combats with it though as an alternative to Star Fleet Battles.

I guess my point here is that, with rare exceptions, if it wasn't made by TSR we didn't buy it. TSR was the king of game companies and had a proven track record. Most of their early role playing games are somewhat compatible, so they had play value with D&D too. That made sense to us because our budgets didn't allow for a lot of "useless" gaming stuff. As we got older we were in a position to change this somewhat, we could better afford other game company's things. We bought into more game types too. Board wargames mostly, ranging from "Axis and Allies" and "Conquest of the Empire" to more unusual and exotic choices like SPI's "China War" (which I loved) or West End's "Air Cav" (which Tim bought solely because he knew he was going to be an army helicopter pilot, a dream he achieved). Star Fleet Battles makes the list here too.