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All Wargames and Wargaming

Fantasy Role-Playing Games

Our first inkling of "Fantasy" came not from games, but from reprints of old pulp fiction.  My friends and I enjoyed the world of Robert E. Howard and his fictional "Hyborian Age."  They had a lot more of an edge that the cutie-pie "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" by Tolkien.  For us, Sword & Sorcery was a genre of books and a sub-genre of Science Fiction.

A game called "Chainmail" was the first time we saw fantasy in wargaming.  Chainmail had a Fantasy Supplement for controlling various monsters, spells and units of bogeymen.  We didn't play it, but it was there.  Minifigs issued a set of mythical and fantastic figures, which some of us bought, just for the challenge of something unusual.

Back then, a new game emerged called "Dungeons and Dragons."  It came ina box with three booklets.  Interesting ,and lots of its own convoluted mythic lore.  We were interested, but somehow D&D never caught on with me.  Too ponderous, too awkward, too likely to attract nerdotheres.  The only thing I like was the figures that some of the metal casters were making to go along with D&D.  They had a mythic "something" that was alluring.

Of course, there were competitors.  Steve Jackson developed the Melee, Wizard and In the Labyrinth games for Metagaming, while another outfit came forth with Tunnels and Trolls.  Most of the new Role Playing games of the 70s were in the medieval Mythic genre, but it didn't take long for things to expand further.  Steve Jackson's GURPS system expanded Fantasy Role Playing from the Dungeon to the Street to the Space Station and beyond.  In no time, the field was flooded with reality-type role-playing games alongside fantasies that went far beyond The Hobbit.  

Role-playing games are "fiction in action."  Each player develops one or more fictitious characters as his "playing pieces."  The game involves the activities, interactions and experiences of these fictitious folks.  Characters can vary greatly, depending on the game system and the situation and whim of the players.  You can have people of various types, legendary beings like elves or goblins, and even the bizarre such as aliens.  The end result is a mix of storytelling, sheer creativity and moving fiction.  

Role-playing games work best with creative, imaginative people who can suspend their sense of reality temporarily.

The Lay of the Land

Fantasy role-playing games are not like your usual family board games.  They have many unusual aspects to them which set them apart. First of all, they require you to so some reading.  Even the simplest role-playing game is not all that simple for the uninitiated!  

There is the matter of equipment.  Along with the rule book itself, you will usually need several charts and dice.  The charts cover such things as damage, character attributes, and probabilities for everything from monsters to weapons.  You will need them, because they save the trouble of flipping wildly through the rulebook several items per "move."

Dice can be "dicey."  Many sets use unusual dice, from cubes with odd markings or colors to dice with as many as twenty sides!  Yes, they make twenty-sided dice.  Most game suppliers sell the dice.  It's always good to find out the kinds of dice you will need when you buy a specific game.   Of course, some games prefer to stick with normal dice.  

Another issue: hex sheets.  Many wargames use sheets with six-sided hexes as a "game board."  It is a good idea to get a few sheets of it before getting started.

Some games provide playing pieces, be they cardboard chits or miniature figures.  Some are best played with pieces of your own.  

Finally, you will need paper, pencils, and patience.  It takes a while to learn the games.

Solo games guide you through an adventure, but most games with other players involved a person called GM (Game Master) or DM (Dungeon Master).  He is the one who develops the scenario and the "world" in which you lead your play characters.  Using the rules, the Game Master designs a place in which to play.  He is like a master storyteller for your story, guiding the tale as it unfolds.  Players try to decipher the world and deal with situations as the unfold.

Unlike traditional family games, which resolve everything with rules and dice or a spinner , role-playing involves interaction with a Game Master.  In effect, he applies the rules as he sees fit.  The result is a game which is not as cut-and-dried as classic games.  Neither is it quite so mechanical.

Getting Started

The way to get started is to look at various rule sets.  Read them and try to get a feel for how they work  Systems vary greatly, from those which are fast-moving with fewer rules, to intensely-written, complex ones with many rules. You choices depend on your temperament.  Some like a fast game, some want detailed realism.  By looking at various rule sets, you get a feel for which ones YOU would like.

Be very, very careful in selecting your chosen game.  Do NOT buy everything in sight, right away.  Start slowly. If you get connected with other players who prefer another game, you will have to buy all new stuff all over again.  That can get expensive if you dropped a load of money into books, accessories, add-on modules, etc.  Start slowly and give yourself time.  

Find out exactly what the games require, insofar as accessories.  What do you need to play...or maybe, how many books do you need before you can play?  Yes, some systems sell a simple bare-bones "starter book" that is useless without a few add-on texts.  It adds up.

Mechanics of the Role-Playing

The fantasy role playing games require that you develop a character.  It is more than coming up with a fiction person.  The character has to have certain attributes which determine his ability to handle situations as they unfold during a game. Most role-playing game situations involve solving a problem or fighting an opponent.  Therefore, characters need attributes which factor when they do both.

Characters also need a persona - an identity and personality.  The player determines if his character is male or female, its age, its background, attitude, and whether it is human, alien, or something other.  The exact nature of the character has to fall within the rules of the particular game.  The personal affects how the character reacts to some situations.

There are also the specialized attributes determining a character's abilities for fighting and solving problems..  The standard process used by most games is to allow a certain number of points to be allotted to a character's attributes.  You can allot more to one attribute than to another, depending on your character's abilities. The attributes would include a character's intelligence, strength, physical dexterity and ability to withstand damage.  The traits determine what tools and items he can use, and how successfully he can perform actions during the game.

In some games,. for instance, greater strength affects things such as the ability to wield large weapons  Greater dexterity can affect the ability to evade damage, or to use a complicated tool.  Intelligence might govern one's ability to solve problems, and greater stamina would be the ability to handle more damage without succumbing.

These games are all about resolving various conflicts.  Without conflict, there would be no game. The most important attributes for the game are those used in resolving conflicts successfully.

The Game Master's story line will introduce various types of conflict, which the players' characters must resolve either by combat or other means.  Most of these situations will involve a fight or other impending danger.  It is in overcoming the problems that one succeeds, eventually coming to a point where he can fulfill the condition that wins the game.

Figures and Miniatures

Part of the fun of Fantasy Games involved miniature figures.  Though many games can be played without them, miniatures adda dimension of creativity and fun.  Initially, toy figures from other genre were pressed into service, doubling as fantasy creatures.  The early 1970s saw several companies produce their own version of figures, inspired by a combination of classic mythology, horror movies and the works of JRR Tolkien and Robert E. Howard.  An assortment of classic mythic monsters, movies monsters and fantasy charagcters emerged.  The assortments grew in size, scope and delicate detail.

To see how the earely figures looked, click below to read Gerardo Vasquez's article:

Classic Lord of the Rings Figures

More articles on figures wil be coming!

Jump in "on the cheap"

To learn a little about the games, you can download some of the free rules listed below.  These allow you to see how games work and to give them a try.  You might like them, or you might be inspired to look further afield.  Note that most of the games listed as "free" are complete games in their own right.  They are not little "mini" versions given to entice you to buy the full version.  Several posted here ARE the FULL VERSION.

Give these games a try first.  

Downloadable Games - Free

Melee, Wizard, In the Labyrinth and Advanced rules Our favorite role-playing game  The Fantasy Trip began as three simple booklets: Melee for weapons combat, Wizard for magical combat, and Death Test for a pre-arranged adventure.  It evolved into a wonderful, practical system of gaming.  Sadly, the company broke up over internal friction, and the fellow who kept the rights pretty much disappeared.  There are few places left to get these rules.  A small but determined group supports this system, and it is a great way to get started.  Begin with Melee and Wizard.  In the Labyrinth is the "guts" of a great fantasy campaign game.  Advanced Wizard and Advanced melee add new elements to the games. Note that these games use regular dice.  No special equipment is required.

Hundred Kingdoms - a company called Black Orc Games provides a nice, easy-to-play set called the Hundred Kingdoms.  There are several rulebooks for the game, the most essential being The Official Hundred Kingdoms Rulebooks. Other rulebooks are supplements, with everything form Siege Rules to war bands. They can be played as fantasy games or as classic historical games. This is the quick link directly to the games click here

Heroic Fantasy - from the folks at Flying Buffalo, a free downloadable rule set for a play-by-mail game with up to 15 characters. It's worth a look.  These are the folks who sell "Tunnels and Trolls."

Jim Wallman's Free rules - He has some Fantasy rules among various others, including rules for pther genmre.

Games you buy

Tunnels and Trolls - Back in the 70s, this was an alternative to the more popular Dungeon type games.It is a nice system, and is well supported by game modules, solo game kits, etc. You can have some rather wild adventures here.

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