“My last run of the night was with Michael Dorn, Denise Crosby, Brent Spiner and Marina Sirtis. This was a long trip from the BMO center to the airport, so I had lots of time to listen in to their conversation. I was far too intimidated to even attempt to chime into their clearly ‘Hollywood’ banter. They all spent the entire trip talking about how much money they had made at the show and about other famous people that they had run into lately. ‘Dorney’ (as Marina referred to Michael Dorn) was playing with Sirri, Marina was talking about her musician husband, Denise was asking Brent about being a bachelor and Mr. Spiner was talking about the silliness of religion and expressing his strong atheist views. Clearly, I had no part of this very private conversation. At the airport, I put all their luggage onto the sidewalk and prepared to go. Michael Dorn intercepted me with a handful of multiple 20 dollar bills and attempted to tip me. As volunteers, we were allowed to accept any tips that were offered, and my inner bellman from days-gone-by was instinctively going for the cash. However, an even stronger voice, my inner geek, took control. “Sir, I am a volunteer for this show. I am just a teacher from a normal high school that has given up the past four days to be around the likes of you guys. I’m not here to make money- I’m here to see you guys. You guys are my tip.” Both Marina and Denise got very emotional and gave me hugs and kissed right on the terminal. Worf gave me the best handshake ever and thanked me for being a devoted fan. Brent glowed and also offered a heartfelt handshake and told me that it was all four of them should be thanking people like me for giving the TNG people their lifestyles, jobs and fame. For that one moment, I really felt like the four halflings at the end of Return of the King when all the ‘big’ people were appreciating the efforts of the shirefolk. I had to quickly get back into the car and drive away before Worf could see me well-up with tears and thank the Star-Trek gods for giving me such a fantastic experience.”—from Roll for Initiative | There and Back Again: A tale of the Calgary Expo 2012
When I was about eight years old, Mom took me into the Coles at the mall—I’ve always been an avid reader—and a book caught my eye. It had a picture on the cover of a crazy lizardman with a crazy bone crown thing and a scimitar, which was like, the most amazing thing my eight year old mind had ever processed. It was entitled “Island of the Lizard King” and it claimed to be an adventure gamebook in which I would be the hero. I don’t know how anyone ever saw that book and didn’t buy it. Seriously! And that was my first encounter with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. For those among my readers unfamiliar with the series, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks were similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books, except they had simple rules for fighting monsters, you could die (quite frequently and suddenly in many cases) and they were almost entirely fantasy, many of them taking place in a world called Titan. The reader would create a hero and then proceed to take them on the adventure, finding treasures and fighting monsters along the way, striving to reach the end of the quest (usually at paragraph 400) and achieve victory. When I got into the series there were maybe twenty of the things in print, and I acquired as many as I could as quickly as I could devour them (or in some cases, locate copies.) Eventually they tapered off, with close to sixty gamebooks having seen release, along with associated world guides and two versions of a tabletop RPG based on the gamebook rules, and several novels. I’d managed to get copies of most of them, and to this day I have fond memories of the series as a whole. Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were in a sense my first Dungeon Masters, along with the other writers of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and Titan was a world I came to know well. Other gamebook lines existed, as well, of course—Lone Wolf was a big one—but I never felt the same connection and sense of wonder with those stories as I did with the Fighting Fantasy books. Several Fighting Fantasy titles have since been reprinted, in a couple of different editions, and new titles added to the list, as well. At the time of this writing, I’m missing just one book from the gamebook line, Revenge of the Vampire. Someday I’ll have the spare cash on hand to pony up for a copy, but not today. There’s also been a recently released new edition of Dungeoneer that I picked up out of pure nostalgia, though I haven’t talked anyone into sitting down for a session or three of it yet. In a very real sense these gamebooks informed my own dungeon mastering style, as an adult. I was especially fond of a couple of the later books that adopted a very Hammer Horror tone, and on more than one occasion that has influenced my worldbuilding for game settings and adventures I run for my friends. The worldbook, Titan, gave me a mental checklist of “things I need to come up with for my world” that I still compare against today. They’re not the only influence, of course, but they’re a major part of my childhood love of fantasy. This post is probably not the last you’ll hear about them from me, either…
So I’m looking into running an RPG. I’ve played D&D before, but not for a few years. I’d like to run some 3rd or 3.5 edition campaign at some point in the future, but it’s a lot to come to grips with when I’ve never DMed before. Add to that the fact that I want to introduce actual (i.e. non-video) roleplaying to new players, and the challenge is even greater. It’s hard enough to convince new people to play a pen & paper RPG at all without saddling them with a truckload of arcane rules. Even if they agree, the potential for quick burnout is high, and relative to the investment and time I would have to put into such a campaign, it would just make it ridiculous for me to run a D&D campaign at the moment.
That being said, I believe I have found a workable solution. I’m a fan of the classic 1980s fantasy gamebook series, Fighting Fantasy. I first ran across the books many, many moons ago, and ordered some for nostalgia a few years back. In the course of doing that, I also picked up a copy of Titan,a sourcebook for what I then discovered had been an RPG system based on the books (Titan is the name of the world in which the books take place). The gamebooks are called such because they are essentially simple, solo RPGs in Choose Your Own Adventure format.
CYOA books had the “novel” (har, har) feature of being nonlinear - in other words, you read a paragraph or a page or so, and had to make a decision about what YOU would do next. The books were written in the relatively rare second-person narrative, so you were to imagine yourself in the role of the protagonist (hence why gamebooks translate well to roleplaying games). You would finish reading a numbered section, and depending on your choice, you would be directed to another section of the book, flipping back and forth between pages as the blurbs were not (and by the nature of the format, could not be) listed in order. Sometimes good things would happen, and if enough of them did, you got to a good ending. More often, however, especially starting out, you would arrive at one of several “bad” endings, which often meant death or something almost or equally unpleasant. Occasionally worse even than that, which made them very popular children’s books.
Gamebooks were essentially that, but with the addition of a combat and inventory system. Lone Wolf was another popular example, especially in my elementary school. Fighting Fantasy really caught my imagination, however, as both my brother and sister had read the books a bit, and I happened upon one of their tattered copies after they had moved out of the house. I went through the whole book before I realized that the ending page had been torn out, (I didn’t cheat and read ahead, because what would be the point?) and so I had to write my own. Years later I would finally read the correct ending, but I somehow preferred my own. Back to Titan, after getting that book, I found out that others had been published. The book I had gave an overview of the campaign setting, sort of like Forgotten Realms in D&D. Others published were like the equivalent of the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I had gotten the first book cheap, but the others were pricier, and as I wasn’t interested in running the game at the time, I forgot about it a bit.
Then I had the urge to run an RPG, and I ran into this D&D dilemma, and it hit me - why not see about running the much simpler, yet still flexible and full-featured Fighting Fantasy (Alliteration!) game instead? I looked up the books on Amazon, only to find to my surprise that they had fairly recently (within the past year) been republished. Out of the Pit (the MM-type thing) and Titan are pretty much straight reprints, so I saved a bit there by already having the latter and ordering a very cheap used copy of the former. However, the GM’s guide has been revised and modernized, which is helpful, while still keeping the simple, streamlined mechanics. So I’ve ordered a copy of that as well, but from everything I’ve read about it, it seems ideally suited to my purposes.
It’s an extremely accessible system, rules-wise, which is perfect for new players, and which makes it much easier for me to design a campaign in a fraction of the time it would take me to sufficiently master the ins and outs of D&D. At the same time, it’s flexible, allowing me to put in as much roleplaying as I like, and to come up with modifications for more atypical rules situations. It’s also set in a world I enjoyed reading about, as relatively traditional and basic as it is, and one which is covered at length and in good detail by a whole series of gamebooks, several of which I already own. In fact, those books could be fairly easily modified and expanded, allowing them to serve as modules, essentially.
I’ve got a couple people somewhat interested, and if I can just get a few people solidly onboard, this could be a fun way to get into DMing, and them into RPGing in general.