Sunday, January 11, 2009

Down Memory Lane

In an effort to sharpen some of my atrophied GMing skills, I've taken as a goal to get out of the habit of using pre-published adventures for the current BRP Banestorm game I'm running for Des.

That, of course, doesn't mean that, in the name of creative inspiration, I'm above shamelessly ripping off material from any and all sources I can lay my hands on. For the adventure I'm currently running there was due to be some overland travel, both by river barge and horseback. I've yet to find more inspirational material for "random stuff to happen on the road in a fantasy game" than in my old Lone Wolf books. So earlier this week I pulled a couple volumes down to crib some, refresh my memory.

Incidentally, it's come to my attention since getting online that the Lone Wolf books were comparatively obscure entries in the 80s "game book" phenomenon, being overshadowed by a considerable margin by the Fighting Fantasy line. This doesn't surprise me, as it fits in perfectly with the script of my childhood--while all my friends were playing Legend of Zelda on the NES, I was playing Miracle Warriors on my trusty Sega Master System, for instance.

But I wasn't aware of this divide back in the day, and I happily devoured each Lone Wolf paperback as I acquired them. I look back on my time reading about the world of Magnamund as my true introduction to gaming--I'd played a single session of D&D prior to this, but it mostly went over my head--and not just because the Lone Wolf books introduced me to many of the tropes of Silver Age D&D fantasy. See, I didn't just read the books myself, but I'd also, during lunch recess, read aloud from the books for a friend and let them make the choices at the end of each entry. So I guess I've been GMing from the very beginning.

At any rate, I still have my original Lone Wolf paperbacks, treasured relics of both my gaming past and my childhood. One of the books I pulled off the shelf this week was Cauldron of Fear, Book 9 in the series but the first volume I purchased. One of the great things about the Lone Wolf books is that they were designed to work both as standalone volumes and as a campaign-style installment. So you could sit down with Book 1 and play through the whole series with the same "character", or you could cherry-pick individual volumes, which is obviously how I had to approach Book 9 initially.

Flipping through Book 9 on the bus ride to work, I was struck by the realization that, thanks to the character sheet section in the front, I had an actual written relic of a time of my childhood staring me in the face, a visceral connection to myself at the age of 9 or 10. And I hereby foist said relics upon you, unsuspecting reader. Bask in the brilliance!

Here's the care-worn cover of my copy. Considering it's an over-20-year-old mass-market paperback that's been subjected to multiple re-reading, it's held up pretty well.

The inside cover had this "certificate of ownership", which I dutifully filled out using my best 9 year-old calligraphy skills.

Incidentally, looking at that illustration (by the inimitable Gary Chalk) now, it's a prime example of the fantastic realism I hold so dear--the quasi-medieval illumination, the knight wearing historical-style armor, and so forth.

OK, now we get into the meat of the thing--the character sheet. The second page was a "combat matrix", which I dutifully used even unto the paper having holes worn in it from constant writing and erasing. It's interesting to see my tortured adherence to cursive writing, or how spelling "psychic ring" on the third page was apparently completely beyond my abilities at the time.

The last page in the book was an order form for the Magnamund Companion, perhaps my all-time favorite "world guide". I never did order the thing--the "sales tax" box bested my 4th grade math skills--but I did manage to pick up a copy at a B. Dalton's eventually.

Ever since getting into RPGs proper, I've always wanted to run a campaign set in Magnamund. Being the only person in my gaming group who had been into the Lone Wolf series kept that agenda firmly on the back-burner, but I was bursting with excitement when Mongoose put out their d20-ization of Lone Wolf back in 2004, but was quickly turned off by the product for a variety of reasons both mechanical and aesthetic. I did end up running a brief mini-campaign for Des, but in retrospect I think the Mongoose edition was a rather large brick in the wall of me ultimately rejecting d20--even though they'd streamlined the system somewhat (dropping feats and consolidating the skill list), I still found it too baroque and cumbersome.

My current candidate for running a campaign in Magnamund is Burning Wheel, which seems to have the proper sort of gritty quasi-medieval feel of the world. And now that the Magic Burner is out, it should be pretty easy to do the necessary write-ups for the variety of magical-psionic powers that are the setting's hallmark. At this point it's more a matter of having too many other projects on my plate to justify taking on more work, but it will happen someday. It's on the "long list" as they say. Until then, I've got the memories in my old game books, and the digital versions on Project Aon for when I feel like playing through them again (which I end up doing once every year or two).

ETA: Speaking of "long lists", one of the items on my long list of things to buy if I suddenly found myself with more money than I knew what to do with is the French version of the Lone Wolf RPG, which featured all new illustrations from Gary Chalk. Fantastic realism indeed!
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