Dragons of Underearth, 1981.
Metagaming? Yes, but who on Earth were "Games Research Group Inc"?
Dragons of Underearth is an odd beast. Published by Metagaming but copyright Games Research Group. It is 100% compatible with (ok, almost identical to...) Melee and Wizard and yet the designer is credited as Keith Gross not Steve Jackson. Gross was a Metagaming staffer at the time who produced Ice War, Invasion of the Aireaters and Lords of Underearth.
The game originally came in a box and is very hard to find. However, the booklet from the game, entitled Dragons of Underearth, Character Creation Module can still be found for sale on it's own (that's how I got mine) and there are probably pdf's or facsimiles of the gameboard and character counters out there somewhere.
The obvious question is why did Metagaming bother to develop the game? They'd published the Advanced Melee and Wizard, together with In The Labyrinth, the year before and still sold the original microgames! The box blurb suggests that more of the system will be published but it wasn't to be. Part three of the system was provisionally titled Conquerors of Underearth but was never published. No doubt the reasons lie in Steve Jackson's departure from Metagaming. He and CEO, Howard Thompson didn't see eye to eye on how to develop the Fantasy Trip. According to Jackson, the thin magazine like production of the Advanced version wasn't at all how he had imagined the game. And according to Thompson, he wasn't happy because he'd never wanted a big all singing and dancing fantasy RPG in the first place. The excellent Narmer of the Dynasty Zero blog has shown me a letter written by Thompson to a fan at the time, explaining the situation as he saw it.
It turns out, that Games Research Group Inc. was another imprint belonging to Thompson although I don't know what, if anything was ever published under that name.
As it is, Dragons of Underearth is pieces of an RPG, a cut down version of the Advanced Melee and Wizard rules and bits of In The Labyrinth and a linked but stand alone wargame in the Lords of Underearth microgame.
The front cover painting is stylish and I like it a lot (others don't), the counters and playing board are the same artwork as The Fantasy Trip. The graphic design and layout is, to my eyes, bloody awful. Tiny, hard to read print and poorly drafted rules. On the other hand ... it's Melee and Wizard plus a simple skill system, treasure and magic items.
Has anyone ever tried to play it?