Wednesday 28 October 2020

Boot Hill, by TSR 1975


Boot Hill, 1975, was the third roleplaying game published by TSR and the second rpg to be designed by Gygax and co. It was developed by Gygax, Brian Blume and TSR co-founder Don Kaye and extensively play tested for a year before publication. It is dedicated to Kaye who died early in '75 although final writing credits are Gygax and Blume.
The game went through three editions between 1975 and 1990 with surprisingly little alteration of the main rules and mechanisms until the 3e which adds further abilities and skills amongst others. The first edition, the one I'm looking at here, was augmented in subsequent editions with maps, adventures, historical notes and biographies of famous gunslingers and lawmen.

All in all, compared with other TSR rpgs, Boot Hill was very poorly supported with only five (I think) separately published scenario/adventure booklets. However, when the first edition originally appeared, extra material, commentary and notes on how to mash up the game with D&D (and then Metamorphosis Alpha) began turning up in magazines and newsletters. Most notably in the Polyhedron magazine and the Strategic Review.

Boot Hill 1e came in the familiar format of early TSR publications, a 40 page digest/A5 booklet with sturdy pages and the ubiquitous cream card covers. 34 of these pages are rules and maps with the remainder being reference charts and an advert for other quality gaming products from TSR (who will, they claim, pay your postage for you but that if you live in Wisconsin there is a 4% sales tax!) It's all done in a style very similar to D&D of course, although the editing in Boot Hill seems somewhat better. That may be because although the game is obviously a role playing game, it is even more obviously of a wargame background than D&D. The characters' stats and the bulk of the game mechanics are about the process of shooting your opponents to pieces before they do the same to you. Interestingly, being as so much of the game is 1:1 scale skirmish battle, there is just a brief mention of using miniatures. It is assumed that the referee, much like a Dungeon Master mapping the underworld, will create a map of the town in which the action takes place. This map should then be covered with a plastic sheet so that grease pencils can mark the positions of the characters (presumably erasing and redrawing characters and NPCs- 'minor characters' as they move). I find this surprising considering that at this time, Marx and Timpo plastic toy cowboys for example, were very readily available. There is photographic evidence of Gygax and Arneson using such 1/32 scale models of knights for their D&D games!

The rules themselves are reasonably straightforward, if a little table heavy. The book is split into the basic rules section, an advanced set of rules and finally some optional rules to make things more realistic (ie even more deadly). These optional rules and tables do something to lift the rules from a skirmish game to an rpg. For example, there are rules for sharpshooting, intoxication, gambling, posses, tracking and notes on ageing, together with a few pages on running campaigns. There are some rules which make an appearance here, before they became part of D&D. For example, there are hit location tables and rules for the effects of wounds in various bodily locations. Although not as complex as those which later appeared in Blackmoor, these hit location tables actually detail more areas of the body. Brawling and grappling rules were part of the Boot Hill game that later appeared in D&D. Mind you, what would a Western game be without rules to fight a bar room brawl? The rules for intoxication begin with this wonderfully understated sentence, "Alcoholic beverages affect people in various ways." Right. In Boot Hill booze reduces your gun Accuracy in exchange for boosted Bravery and extra Strength. Some players may feel this exchange worthwhile... until they are involved in gunfight. Boot Hill is a deadly game and anything that reduces a character's Accuracy is to be avoided at all costs! To round things off there are some fun rules for dynamite. These rules bring rather Wile E Coyote like images to mind with characters throwing huge bundles of dynamite sticks around the place!

It's worth noting that this game attempts to recreate the movie and TV Westerns that Gygax and Blume grew up with. In the current political climate, it's hard to see WotC or anyone else, issuing Boot Hill 4e, without considerable editing for political correctness. There is but one paragraph on 'Indians'- which is entirely devoted to special morale rules. Indians it seems, are very, very brave.

Finally, there is an interesting predecessor for Boot Hill. This is a set of rules written by members of a wargaming group in Bristol, England, in 1971. This is the 'Western Gunfight Wargame Rules' by Curtis, Colwill and Blake. Gary Gygax knew of these rules, as they had become something of a hit in wargaming circles in the UK and USA at the time. These rules are credited as introducing skirmish wargames as well as the use of 20 sided dice, marked 0-9 to produce percentile scores.

Copies of the first edition (there are two different versions of the cover) can be found online for a mere $900, whereas copies of the second and third editions, the boxed ones, can go for around $50-70 a piece. You may also see a version published in the early 2000s by Rogue Comet. This company produce  the Dungeonesque rpg and currently hold the rights to Boot Hill. I should also say that you can buy both pdf and POD reissues of 2e and 3e from Drivethru rpg.

Here are a few resources you might find useful: 

This is Bud Wright's MeWe group, 'Boots and Saddles' (one of the best MeWe group names yet in my opinion!)

And here is Norton Glover's blog on which he has posted some character sheets for first edition Boot Hill (as well as tons of other obscure but interesting games)

Wednesday 21 October 2020

News from FGU

 Scott Bizar of Fantasy Games Unlimited has shared with me that he is working on several more games from the FGU back catalogue which he hopes to re-issue soon. Archworld, the fantasy wargame and empire building game is on the list.

Archworld is an interesting one as it was created by the authors of the novels and is a great example of a game from that period when the campaign was at a world spanning level rather than a focus on individual heroes. As a set of rules, it speaks of it's time; lots of basing sizes, big tables of points to buy your troops for example. But these include heroes and magicians and so forth. These heroes can be bought (hired I guess) or you can 'grow your own'. It's the sort of game that is designed to last years with an ebb and flow of a changing political landscape. Certainly the sort of thing that could be used to have as a dynamic background to a role playing game of your choosing.

There are plenty of other gems in the FGU back catalogue, so more power to your elbow Scott!

Saturday 17 October 2020

Adventures in Fantasy

Dave Arneson's other game 

Adventures In Fantasy was written by Dave Arneson and Richard Snider. How much of the game was designed by each person I don't know. Snider, a mathematician, was known for using formulas to calculate outcomes and abilities, so maybe the maths in the game can be put down to him? As for Arneson, he claims in the Forward (written in April '78) that he feels "that the basic spirit of the Role Playing Fantasy game has not been well looked after", by which of course, he means Dungeons and Dragons. So it can be assumed that he meant Adventures in Fantasy (AiF) would correct this situation. Remember also that Arneson had acrimoniously left TSR at this point in time and was in legal dispute with them over the ownership of D&D. 

The game (AiF) was published by Excalibre Games in 1979, although somewhere out there are 164 copies of a pre-publication version of the game released a year earlier (play test versions? Game in beta?). It came in a full colour cardboard box 30cm×22cm×3.5cm, with the Excalibre Games logo on the top but a copyright notice on the bottom saying 1st edition/1st printing, copyright Adventures Unlimited. I don't know how well it sold. Then, in 1981, Arneson (flush with TSR legal settlement money) and Snider, bought back the rights and republished AiF under the name of Adventure Games. Stickers with the new logo were hurriedly printed and stuck over the old Excalibre logo, and they were good to go.

The copy I have is graced with both Arneson's and Snider's autographs. A fact I thought made my copy uber special, until I discovered that this was something they did to practically all of the boxes they sold! Presumably they did this as they were sticking on their newly printed logos. So, not rare after all I thought. Then I found out that they actually had signed some of the boxes they got back from Excalibre but before their Adventure Games stickers had been made. So, rare again! Either way, I'm just pleased the have Dave's signature. 

Inside the box are three booklets (shades of OD&D here): The Book of Adventure (The Blue book), 57 pages, all printed in blue, explaining the basic mechanics, character creation, combat, gaining experience and, interestingly, reputation (you can have a higher rep than your experience level! Which might mean you get asked to perform feats you aren't yet capable of!).

Then there's the Pink book: The Book of Creatures and Treasure. 

This has some nice touches and unusual monsters. You get the feeling that in Arneson's games, the monsters are characters in their own right and not simply cannon fodder. There are 29 pages of monsters, nine of which are about dragons! There are some ready reference tables collating info about these monsters and then the remainder of the book as about treasure. This includes formulas for calculating the personal wealth of monsters, the value of everyday items not always considered as treasure such as plates and goblets, tapestries, saddles and artwork. The treasure is divided into five catagories: swords, armors, amulets, talisman and misc. And starting characters can begin games with magic items gained as part of an inheritance. I like some of the swords. There's a Resuscitate Dead Sword, which is really cool to own because not only can you bring back a dead mate once a day, if you are wielding it when you are killed- you come back to life! Handy. The amulets and talismen are interesting too. Arneson likens them to the way magical armour and magical swords work. Like armour, an amulet just works by being there, and like sword, a talisman does nothing until you actively use it. Another favourite is the Goblet of Greatness. In return for drinking from it once a day, the character's charisma is doubled, his Social level increases every month and his lands bring his twice the income they did before! Greatness indeed.

The final book (Green this time) is The Book of Faerry and Magic, 49 pages. Magic in AiF is points based and spells are limited by alignment. There are further categories of magic such as permanent magic and the Faerry magic of the title. The power of Magic is scaled so that most spells become more powerful when  cast by higher level magicians. Saving throws get harder to make if more spell points were used in the casting of the spell. All good stuff and could work well I think. The Faerry magic is only used by people of the Faerry. These are creatures of otherworldly looks and powers, not all benign: Elves, Trolls, Troll Lords, Dwarves, Goblins and Faerries. There are also Elementals which include Gnomes.

The whole package is rounded off by three, double sided reference sheets printed on stiffly waxed card and a couple of "d20s". These are however, the old wargamers' sort: 20 sided but marked 0-9 twice. With one set of numbers coloured in with a wax crayon, you can produce 0-9, 1-10, 1-20 and 1-100(%).

I have yet to play this game but I would really like to. It's indeed a lot more coherent than OD&D, but... that's working from a fairly low base! If Dave and Richard wanted to write an rpg that novices could pick up and play more easily than Dave's other game, I'm afraid they failed.

Finally, part of a review from Clayton Miner who reviewed Adventures in Fantasy for Pegasus magazine #1 (1981). He completed his review by saying: "Admittedly, this game does have its fascinations, especially to those who are interested in running a game with the flavor of medieval tales, rather than as Middle Earth. This is a game that should be avoided by those people who derive enjoyment from running a wide variety of character classes, as the only ones available are Warrior and Magic User. It is unfortunate that what could have been a superior project has turned out to be a disappointment in terms of playability and quality."