Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Retro-Clone you might not have.

Though my focus is usually on D&D-based games, there's still one little RC out there with plenty of old-school cred that I think well-deserving of mention. During my misspent youth it wasn't always possible to get together an "appropriately" sized group for a good game of D&D, and fortunately for those times, Microgames came to rescue. Cheap, tiny, ridiculously portable, easy to learn, and *usually* fun (yes, there were a couple of duds), these little games ate up a lot of my freetime.

One of these that I particularly enjoyed was Melee, part of what, with its later companion game Wizard, was known as "The Fantasy Trip" (we're trippin' dude!). Like its more board-or-war-game oriented brethren, my (used) copy of Melee came in a worn little plastic baggie, with some tiny dice, a hex map, a tiny rulebook, and some battered counters of little gladiator-looking dudes. "In the Labyrinth" would develop the Trip even further, into what many regard as a quite passable rules-lite RPG with some cool combat options.

TFT would become quite popular in its own right, even amidst the crowded RPG landscape of the late seventies and early eighties. The owner of the game held a couple of notorious contests in which he provided clues to the location of a real Silver Dragon (and attendant 10k prize) and later a Gold Unicorn, which was never found (I believe I've narrowed the location down to three possibilities;).

At any rate, the game has vanished into the mists of time, some 25 years gone now, after a dispute between the owner and the game's lead designer, one Steve Jackson (yes, that one). Fortunately, the fellows over at Dark City Games have put together a short and sweet simulacrum of the complete TFT game (Melee/Wizard/Labyrinth) called Legends of the Ancient World and are happily chugging along making cool new adventures for the system. Check it out, its good stuff.

They also have a sci-fi variant of the ruleset, called Time and Space, which I find particularly cool, as rules-lite sci-fi games are extremely few and far-between.


  1. Cool! Thanks for the link to darkcity - had no idea anyone was keeping the melee/wizard torch lit. I played the heck out of these back in the day (and OGRE/GEV - still do get some OGRE in)

  2. You Sir are a scholar and a gentleman, and I thank you profoundly for this post and link. I love me some TFT. Now I'm off to see what the deal is at Dark City Games.

  3. As you may have noticed there are two play by post games going on in the Necromacer Games forum. We are playing a TFT game (with a bit of ItL rules) and a LAW game. It has been great fun and especially nice to have one of the Dark City Games guys playing with us.

  4. A guy I went to junior high with played Melee but I never really knew what it was. Sounds interesting and I'll have to check out the clone. Thanks!

  5. This is seriously cool. Downloaded at home - will have to check them out this weekend.

    Thanks for posting about this!

  6. I was always intrigued by the game as a kid but never picked ITL up on the few occasions I saw it as I could never find a copy of Melee & Wizard at the same time and would end up blowing my coin on something else.

    My brother had a short lived D&D game he played with another friend and I saw the friend using ITL one time when he was DM'ing. I managed to sneak a look* at my brother's character sheet a day or two later and when I saw that the party had killed several "prootwaddles" and some other silly named monsters it was an immediate turn off at the time- just as T&T spell names had been to my friends/gaming group. I never pursued a copy thereafter.

    An ITL PDF was available (illegaly, I'm sure) online several years back on some TFT website and after browsing through I was not terribly impressed, frankly. The mechanics are def the seed that led to GURPS, and I'd probably just use GURPS LITE in that case. ITL was the book that turned W/M into a full fledged FRPG and the download @ DCG seems to be just the barebones M/W rules(?).

    *My older brother and I fought like Cats & Dogs growing up, thus I was not allowed to observe, let along GAME with his friends during a D&D session, lol

  7. I can see where litrtrdnck is coming from, but I'll go ahead and disagree. Yeah, there were a few issues with things in ITL -- the Prootwaddles should have never made it out of playtesting. Plus, on a casual browse, the rules aren't very well organized, but if you actually spend some time on it, it well repays the effort. Still the best light FRPG rules around -- and I much prefer them to GURPS simply because GURPS has long since reached the "dinosaur" stage of adding so much weight that it becomes too mind-boggling to use. I play games to "play," not to peruse rules book after rules book. The nice thing about TFT is that it lets you get set up and moving within a few minutes, and the GM can pretty much wing a lot of it if he wants too -- kind of perfect for the sandbox style of play (which I actually prefer), and stocking a dungeon can be done in a few minutes too, complete with traps, hidden doors, confusing locks, wandering monsters and what not. Especially if you spend a few minutes each day for a week or so drawing up some 3x5 cards for random monster selection so you can just shuffle the "Goblin" deck and voila -- Goblins with different arms, armor and characteristics come charging out of the hidden passage, instead of Star Wars Clone troopers.... Really the prep time issue is the same reason I don't play D&D anymore. Some of the GURPS splat books are well worth buying, just for the entertainment value, but overall, I'll take TFT for FRPG play any day.



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