I started this feature after a late summer visit to my grandmother’s house in 2016, where I risked the infernal heat of the attic to take a quick inventory of personal effects I’d left up there. Working on the Death Saves stories had got me to thinking about the contents of the crate of old gaming paraphernalia, and how so much of it was tied to significant moments from my mid-teens to early twenties. The notion of chronicling that journey through individual artifacts struck me as an elegant — and very “on brand” — narrative framework.
The end result was a sprawling, poorly paced mess but perfectly in keeping with my adolescence and early adulthood. Over the course of writing it, my grandmother passed away and the duplex where so many of the entries were set was cleaned out and sold. The crate of RPG stuff ended up on the first floor landing of my home, a temporary resting place — but not so much so to avoid supporting a cat bed at the moment.
The collection it holds is significantly smaller now, shorn of several dozen issues of White Dwarf and reams of notebook paper scrawled with now-indecipherable campaign notes. The rest I kept, or tried to. A number of items I swore should’ve been in there have gone missing, most notably my set of “orange spine” AD&D manuals. I can’t imagine anyone walking off with them, but also can’t recall bring them up to the House on the Hillside at an earlier date. Maybe they’ll turn up when we finish the re-organization of our own attic this spring. (I actually promised all of them — with the exceptions of sentimental faves Oriental Adventures, Monster Manual II, and Fiend Folio — to Lil Bro if they do resurface.)
There were a few systems and sourcebooks that slipped through the cracks over the course of this feature — Palladium’s Revised Recon and Heroes Unlimited, FGU’s Bushido, and a really bizarre Australian small press superhero RPG I found in Excalibur’s clearance bin. I thought about retroactively fixing it but there’s not a lot worth saying about them except Palladium’s wannabe D&D mechanics were lousy, a Vietnam War based RPG was grotesque even for the mid-Eighties, and I’ve seen actuarial tables with more thrilling action than Bushido’s tables-within-tables-within-tables nonsense could generate.
What, you want to know more about the Down Under superhero thing? Fine.
Imagine you attempted to create a complex superheroes rules system in a single-draft, stream-of-consciousness jag fueled by Jolt Cola and Ny-Quil but kept losing the thread and got wrapped up in tangents covering all the drugs a player’s knock-off Wolverine could sell for money and inexplicable illustrations of a rabbit eating a carrot alternating with exposed nipple shots of a teenager’s attempt to turn a Playboy centerfold photo into a superheroine sketch.
Even that sounds a dozen times better than the actual product.
This post marks the conclusion of a journey that started with a Fighting Fantasy book purchased at a department store when I was thirteen and ended with a Warhammer 40K supplement I bought for bathroom reading when I was forty. The announcement that Dark Heresy was getting a second edition do-over killed any need I felt to continue, especially since I’d been buying the supplements solely for the fluff value. It was fun while it lasted, but I’ve moved on.
Of course, I also told myself that when the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play was announced….