Saturday, October 2, 2010

What are these strange...urges?

First off, hello to all the new readers! I can't believe I'm coming up on eighty now. Unexpected, but very welcome.

Anyway, as those of you who've read the older posts around here already know, I started gaming with the chance find of a badly-scuffed but fondly-remembered copy of Moldvay's Basic D&D rulebook that I chanced upon at a thrift store in 1990 when I was twelve years old (no box, though, so I missed out on the Keep, dice, and crayon).

My first point of contact with "the hobby" (as opposed to the few friends I played with in my small mountain hometown of Big Bear, CA) was when I began reading Dragon Magazine in 1991.

So why reiterate all this now? Because just the other day I pulled issue Dragon #175 (my first!) off the shelf for a nostalgic re-reading and I found myself paying more attention to the ads than to anything else. Specifically: The ads for play-by-mail games.

I've never actually played a PBM, and I suspect that their popularity was very much on the decline even back in 1991. Case in point: Personal computers and email were apparently becoming widespread enough that these very same Dragon issues also had ads for the earliest large online RPG games, like the original Neverwinter Nights.

Still, one ad for Flying Buffalo's Heroic Fantasy in particular brought back cool memories. A group of adventurers charging what looked to be a giant cat-bear monster erupting from a pile of skulls. One of the adventurers, amusingly, was a tiny topless (!) female pixie creature wielding a pencil-sized spear. The text promised "...a play-by-mail game of magic and mayhem; where you control a party of humans, elves, dwarves, fairies, leprecons, ogres, or even a troll or giant." Younger me was intrigued, but sadly also cash-strapped.

So I decided that I was going to Google Heroic Fantasy, just for the fun of it. Maybe I'd find some message board or blog posts from old players reminiscing about the game and I could get some idea of just what I'd missed.

Turns out Heroic Fantasy (now in it's 28th year) is still around! At least if Flying Buffalo's website is to be believed. I've finally got a chance to read the rules and the concept is one that's really tough for modern me to wrap my brain around. It's sort of like a multi-player computer game, except you don't own the computer. Instead, you mail the guy who does a listing of what characters you want to run and what you want them to do and then he plays the game and mails you back to tell you how it went. That's just...bizarre.

Bizarre, but still somehow intriguing. Like a time portal to a bygone era of gaming.

Long story short, I'm considering giving it a try. One turn a month. Hand written. Stuffed in a real paper envelope, affixed with real stamps, and dropped through an honest-to-goodness mail slot.

Now that's old-school!


  1. Calithena used to have some cool, old PBM stuff. I believe he sold it all a few years ago though.

    Back in those days, it seemed a super-cool idea to me too. For whatever reason, I still recall and ad for a Star Trek one. But it does seem a strange concept in the second decade of the 21st century.

  2. 14 years old in 1990? You state on the top right of this page that you're born 1978. That doesn't compute.


    I remember ads for PBMs myself. A few friends played one where you had some kind of criminal gang and fought amongst those. I know I ordered a starter kit for some fantasy game, but never got going.

    What I find amazing is that not only are FBI still doing this, they are doing it still and at least not loosing money on it! Considering Rick had to eat I guess they even earn a dollar or two doing it. That's amazing.

  3. You are so right when you say that PBM is really old school; this is a facet of the hobby that, by all reasonable expectation, might have died twenty years ago. It was more important when there was no internet to instantly connect you with gamers far away from you. You mention the few friends there were to game with in Big Bear; it was easily possible to live in small towns like that and have no one at all to play with. PBM was really cool if you were in that situation.

    Besides, Heroic Fantasy is just cool in its own right.