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Editorial The Digital Antiquarian on the Tabletop Roots of Wasteland

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Feb 20, 2016.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Brian Fargo; Interplay; Ken St. Andre; Michael A. Stackpole; The Digital Antiquarian; Wasteland

    It looks like the Digital Antiquarian is on a roll with the RPG content this year. After his last article about Ultima V, I suspected the next game he'd be taking a look at would be another 1988 release, Interplay's seminal Wasteland. That suspicion has turned out to be correct. Jimmy considers Wasteland to be an important enough game that he's going to dedicate an entire series of articles to it. The first article in the series is not so much about Wasteland itself, but about its roots in the Tunnels & Trolls and Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes tabletop roleplaying rulesets by Ken St. Andre and Michael Stackpole. Here's an excerpt:

    For our purposes, Flying Buffalo’s most significant non-Tunnels & Trolls product must be an entirely new 1983 game called Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes — a game of twentieth-century adventure of all stripes, from John Rambo (mercenary) to James Bond (spy) to Sam Spade (private eye). Michael Stackpole, still a few years removed from beginning his career as a novelist, took it as an opportunity to graduate from writing adventures and supplements to crafting a whole new game system of his own — albeit a game system that owed more than a little to the mechanics of Tunnels & Trolls. His most significant addition to those mechanics was an à la carte menu of skills that took the place of Tunnels & Trolls‘s rigid character classes. Stackpole devised an ingenious and quietly influential system wherein skills could be added to a character’s core abilities to determine her chance of succeeding at something. For instance, she might use Dexterity plus her Pistol skill to shoot at something, Intelligence plus Pistol to figure out what type of pistol a given specimen is, or even Charisma plus Pistol to impress someone else with her shooting skills.

    [...] Even as Flying Buffalo was frantically downsizing, a youthful computer-game executive was fingering his copy of Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes and musing. Brian Fargo, founder and head of a little Orange County developer called Interplay, was in the process of finishing his company’s first CRPG, a Wizardry-like dungeon delver called The Bard’s Tale that had been written primarily by his old high-school buddy Michael Cranford and would soon be published by Electronic Arts. But Fargo already had grander ambitions. He loved pulpy post-apocalyptic fictions: the movies The Omega Man and Mad Max, the comic book Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. The post-apocalyptic CRPG he was dreaming of would be the first of its type, and must entail more than mapping endless mazes and slaughtering endless hordes of monsters — not that a little slaughtering would be amiss, mind you. Looking at Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, a game he liked very much, he started thinking about another first: working with experienced tabletop designers to translate a set of tabletop mechanics, which even in the rule-lights form favored by Flying Buffalo were far more complex than those of the typical CRPG, to the computer.

    Fargo’s first call was to Ken St. Andre, who was very receptive. (“Cross my palm with silver and I’ll be happy to work on games for any company out there,” he jokes today.) St. Andre almost immediately came up with the perfect name, one that would remain unquestioned henceforward:Wasteland. But Fargo would, St. Andre said, need to get Michael Stackpole on board if he wanted to adapt the Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes rules; it was Stackpole’s game, after all.

    When Fargo duly called him up, Stackpole was initially skeptical; plenty of similar feelers had never turned into anything. But when Fargo asked whether he, Fargo, could fly out to Arizona and talk to him about it in person, Stackpole started to take the idea more seriously. Anyway, having just been laid off from Flying Buffalo, he wasn’t in a position to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    Fargo’s choice of partners proved a good one in more ways than one. St. Andre and Stackpole were both very well-acquainted with computer games and didn’t look down on them, a quality that stood them in marked contrast to many of their peers from the tabletop world. Both had become active electronic as well as tabletop gamers in recent years, and both had parlayed this new hobby, as they had their earlier, into paying gigs writing articles, reviews, and columns for magazines like Computer Gaming World and Questbusters. St. Andre had developed a special enthusiasm for Electronic Arts’s Adventure Construction Set, a system for making simple CRPGs without programming that wasn’t all that far removed in its do-it-yourself spirit from Tunnels & Trolls. He served as head of an officially recognized Adventure Construction Set fan club.

    Fiercely loyal to their old friends, St. Andre and Stackpole convinced Fargo to widen the circle yet further, first to include Liz Danforth and then Dan Carver, the very man who had given Tunnels & Trolls its name all those years ago. The new computer project missed only one key figure from the creative core of the old Flying Buffalo. Rick Loomis, busy trying to save his company, had no time for side projects.

    This little group of tabletop alumni were embarking on an unprecedented project. While plenty of tabletop luminaries had flitted over to the more lucrative world of computer games already, no single project had ever employed so many, and never with such a clear goal of bringing the vintage tabletop-RPG experience to a computer game. Whatever his little band of refugees came up with, Fargo knew as he looked on with excitement and no small trepidation, it was bound to be interesting.
    If the Antiquarian keeps to his current schedule, we can expect the next article in the series a week from now.
     
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  2. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    I'm curious - was MSPE the first "skill-based" roleplaying system? That seems doubtful, but I wonder which one was.
     
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  3. Melan Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Patron

    Melan
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    PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Grab the Codex by the pussy
    The first RPG to feature skills was Empire of the Petal Throne (1975), the second to be published after Original D&D. However, EPT skills do not form a system, but they are a collection of ad-hoc rules, encompassing learned skills, extra class abilities, and what we would call spells.

    Runequest (1978) was mostly skill-based five years before MSPE. It is the first iteration of the Basic Roleplaying (BRP) system, subsequently used in Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer/Elric! and others. If we go back a bit further, character generation in original black box Traveller (1977) was based on career paths (Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchant and Other), but characters were ultimately defined mostly by their skills, and advancement was mostly skill-based.

    Neither of these are purely skill-based systems, but both rely heavily on them for task resolution.
     
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  4. Richard Leaks Novice

    Richard Leaks
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    Runequest was in its second edition in 1983, so I'm going to bet on that.
     
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  5. sstacks Arcane

    sstacks
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    This was an excellent article, absolutely love this kind of insight into the roots of PnP RPG gaming and its influence on CRPGs. My preference in CRPGs is a computer game that recreates PnP as closely as possible.

    Loved the history of Tunnels and Trolls, which I have never played but have heard of many times.
     
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  6. Mordru Novice

    Mordru
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    That's funny because around this time at a Strategicon game convention in LA, I remember Rick coming into a game room that was running a scheduled T&T game. He gave all us kids a copy of some module and started really talking up the system. I thought to myself, "I only signed up for this baby RPG cuz RoleMaster was all filled". Tunnels and Trolls SUCKED. It was like rpg super lite compared to the rest of the systems available at the time. Never saw Mercs and spies...
     
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