Back in the 1980’s, the closest we had to something that we’d recognize as an RPG in 2019 was the Atari game “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”. (You had to run around and collect things that would then have to be assembled to allow you to phone home and then you had to run and get there in time to be picked up. Seriously underrated game. People mock it and I guess I understand why… but I kinda see the game as years (decades?) ahead of its time and it did amazing things despite its technical limitations. But that’s another essay.) If not E.T., maybe “Adventure”.
As such, if you wanted an RPG, you needed a bunch of dorky kids sitting around a table yelling about dragons and/or dungeons and throwing dice.
Ah, but what if it were 7PM on a Tuesday and you wanted to do some light RPGing?
Well, they had single player RPG books. Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! books were a huge hit. There were the books inspired by a mix of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and Steve Jackson like the Lone Wolf series or the Way of the Tiger books (ninjas were *HUGE* in the 80’s).
The absolute most amazing one, the *KING* of all of these books, was the Dragonlance book “Gnomes – 100; Dragons – 0“.
In this one, you went to the Dragonlance universe and were dumped into Mount Nevermind: a Gnomish society that was besieged by The Bad Guys. You had to work with the gnomes to defeat the evil dragon army fixing to attack them and you did that by exploring Mount Nevermind and leveraging everything you could find.
Now, the Gnomes in Dragonlance were somewhat Flanderized from the regular D&D Gnomes. In regular D&D, Gnomes were tinkers. In Dragonlance, they more took the attitude that a bicycle was good… imagine how good a bicycle with 12 wheels would be!!! A catapult that threw one boulder was nice… why not a tripult? And such with everything. Turn it up to 11.
So you wandered through Mount Nevermind turning the lovable over-engineered devices you found (“could these rocket-powered rocking chairs be weaponized? What devices have been made by the toymaker? Do the gemologists have anything that could focus a beam of light into a laser?) into war machines until you got to the end of the timer and added up all of the points you accumulated and measured against the power of the army.
And you probably lost, unless you cheated.
You needed a paper and pencil to keep track of everything and, much like the Gnomes themselves, the book was over-engineered something awful. But it was an awesome way to play an awesome RPG without a computer and without 3 other people.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I prefer the stuff we have now to the stuff we had then. But, at the time, that stuff was absolutely amazing.
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is “dice” by Chris Yarzab. Used under a creative commons license.)