Twenty Years On


I ran a lot of play-by-mail games in the 1980s and 90s. I also wrote a fair amount about them in a column for Role Player Independent, one of the UKs many transistory role playing magazines.

My first PBM, Darklands, ran for more than ten years. It probably doesn’t warrant the term epic to describe it, but the fantasy story telling game must have resulted in 100,000+ words of stuff. One player managed to clock in almost 60 turns in that period – if nothing else, that seems indicative of the games often glacial pace. I hand-wrote most of the original stuff, something with carbon paper to maintain my own copies. Later, I employed the services of an Amstrad computer and a dot matrix printer.

Another series, the NXS games, focussed on science fiction. I think NXS 3 or 4 turned out to be a wargame with a modular rule set, which allowed me to port it across to different skins or themes. I ran games based on Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Star Wars (the Empire! game in the picture). Players submitted a range of movement commands for their armed forces, investigation angles for research and development, and some role playing to cover diplomacy. I charted the whole deal out in simplistic spreadsheets, copious notes, and push pins stabbed into a piece of cardboard overlayered with a map.

In the last few months I have sorted through a lot of the material I still have stored in boxes, folders, box files and bags. Many of those original game turns remain, both the incoming and the outgoing stuff. I also have tons of maps, notes, rulebooks and various supporting materials. I have found, in the latter, the potential for recycling, as much of the support material amounts to carefully crafted random tables or notes on possible encounters. I have taken a Travel Effects table from one of the NXS games and given it a thorough update with generic role playing encounters in mind. In many ways, I find a lot of this early material free from baggage – I had watched a lot less telly and read far fewer books back in the 80s and 90s. I can update the material now with an eye to expanding what I have in front of me, but not stuffing it with too many derivative ideas. I can polish what I have and come out with something very usable and handy for the rushed and struggling GM. As just such a GM, always preparing games up to the last moment, I can appreciate the occasional helping hand.

Yesterday, I released Consult Appendix Z – No 1: Interstellar Travel Events based on my Travel Events table. I look at the table now and I remember laboriously typing this thing out on a big old electric typewriter, which always seemed to use up tremendous amounts of ink. I recall that I borrowed it from a friend, but ended up inheriting it when he got something new. I do remember it filling a space the size of a small suitcase. I have taken four pages of close-typed tabular randomness and produced this 18-page PDF – available right now on RPG Now and DriveThruRPG for $2.50. I hope you find it as useful as I did the original Travel Event table!

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