The Fantasy Trip (TFT)
Metagaming, 1980

Physical Components:

Melee: Metagaming Microgame #3, published by Metagaming. Copyright Steve Jackson, 1977, illustrated by Liz Danforth. A 17-page booklet, about 4" by 8", with a 8 1/2" by 14" hex map and counters.

Wizard: Metagaming Microgame #6, published by Metagaming. Copyright Steve Jackson, 1978, illustrated by Clark Bradley. A 32-page booklet, about 4" by 8", with a 12" by 14" hex map and counters.

Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth Game Master's Module. All published by Metagaming, 1980, copyright Steve Jackson. Each is an 8 1/2" by 11" book. 32, 40, and 80 pages respectively.

Supporting products in the collection:

Death Test, MicroQuest 1

Security Station, MicroQuest 5

Master of the Amulets, MicroQuest 7

Tollenkar's Lair Adventure Supplement

Fantasy Masters' Screen

See the cover.
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etagaming was a small game company in Austin, Texas that pioneered the concept of the micro-game: small, inexpensive wargames that were fast and easy to play. Most of their best-selling games were designed by Steve Jackson, and when he started his own company, he took his games with him. Metagaming folded soon afterwards. Few wargaming companies could resist the role-playing mania, and Metagaming was no exception. The Fantasy Trip was the result of their efforts. It was introduced as a series of three micro-games. Melee was a very small scale combat game; Wizard was a magical combat game, and Death Test was a programmed solo adventure designed to be played using the Melee/Wizard rules.

Unlike many other games of its time, TFT drew no distinctions between male and female characters, and the counter mixes of both Melee and Wizard had a selection of female figures, as well-clothed and equipped as the males.

Steve Jackson designed Melee and Wizard as the basic components of a unified role playing game, called The Fantasy Trip. The completed game finally appeared as a collection of three booklets: Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth. Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard contained all the rules from the original micro versions, lacking only the simple boards and counters.

TFT was essentially the first draft of GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System; Steve Jackson Games). It was much simpler to play than GURPS, and both combat and character generation was faster. However, one could never forget that TFT was designed around two stand-alone, but compatible combat games, and that the rest of the system was dressing around this core. GURPS is a richer and more elaborate system that doesn't feel quite so combat-oriented.

 

Character Generation

Characters in the Melee game were described by ST, DX, and move (MA). MA was racially based and reduced by armor. Players had 8 points in both ST and DX, plus another 8 to split between them. As ST increased, the character could wield larger weapons, which did more damage. DX governed initiative and ability to hit (roll under DX on 3d6). Armor absorbed damage, and reduced DX and MA. Damage was deducted from ST. Wizard added the IQ stat, with also started at 8 points. Wizards chose IQ number of spells from spell lists, with more powerful spells available at higher IQs. To cast a spell, a wizard had to roll below his DX, and if successful, deducted the spell's cost from his ST. As befits a pure combat game, virtually all spells were combat related.

Melee and Wizard worked very well as stand-alone games. Like the other micro-games, they were simple to learn and fast to play, and provided a good feel for tactical combat that made other RPG systems look crude. There were enough options to keep the game from getting stale, and the combat and magic systems blended together seamlessly and in a balanced fashion. Battles were quick and fun. These games were not flawless, however. The simplicity of the system made it unrealistic for gamers who were getting hungry for detail. For example, there was no difference between slashing and bludgeoning attacks, and no consideration of how armor would defend against different types of weapons. Missile weapons had unrealistically short ranges (or, more precisely, accuracy dropped rapidly with distance, depriving them of much of their power). Likewise for a wizard's missile spells, which had the same limitations as missile weapons. In addition, there was no way to model greater weapon skill save for an increase in general dexterity. Perhaps most damning was that the simplicity of the game led to mini-maxing. It was soon discovered that the optimum character for a warrior was a ST-12, DX-12, IQ-8 character armed with a broadsword and a large shield. This killed the variety that made the game fun.

Expansions from basic Melee and Wizard

Advanced Melee added more combat maneuvers, more types of armor, and more choices of weapons including primitive black powder guns, while Advanced Wizard added more spells and magic items. The real expansion of the game was In the Labyrinth, which might be considered the Dungeon Masters Guide to the game. It included a sketchy overview of the canonical world (Cidri, a world built by the plane-hopping Mnoren, which permitted referees to bring in any combinations of magic and technology they wanted), a short list of creatures, information on building dungeons and worlds, and a short list of skills to help flesh out characters beyond their raw stats. Other innovations that later found their way to GURPS included a jobs table for player characters, and the standardization of currency to the silver piece, worth about a dollar, and symbolized with the dollar sign (something I always find jarring in a fantasy game). But somehow, TFT never quite jelled as a role playing game. Perhaps this was because of the relatively small number of options for character development, or perhaps it was this combined with the simple character generation system that led to cookie-cutter characters with no individuality. If a character died, it was a simple matter to create a new one exactly the same (missing only accumulated experience points.) It might also be that the game was simply a shell over the combat system, so there was little point to developing characters beyond their combat abilities.

The system was adequately supported with a series of adventures, most of them solo micro-games (or micro-adventures, as they were marketed), but there was also the more traditional GM-run scenario Tollenkar's Lair, where the player characters were to invade the underground lair of the nasty wizard Tollenkar. The scenario had some potential, but it was still a series of battles.

 

Twenty Years Later

Years later, comparing TFT to GURPS, it's clear that GURPS corrected many of TFT's errors. GURPS combat is a nice update of Melee, with combat mechanics that actually help flesh out characters, such as basing "to hit" rolls on skill, not just on the global DX characteristic, and basing damage on ST, not just weapon type. GURPS character generation, based on skills and buttressed with a mind-boggling array of advantages and disadvantages provides for instant character personalities, and cookie-cutter characters are unlikely, even if the game is still based on a hex-grid man-to-man combat system, and players still mini-max the best mixture for physical attributes. However, I can't help but consider TFT more playable than GURPS. It was easy to teach people how to play Melee and Wizard—I could still play a pick-up game today, twenty years after the last time I played—while after spending nearly a month reading the GURPS rule book and first Compendium less than a year ago, I despair of ever mastering the system enough to be comfortable in it.

My friends and I played Melee and Wizard often, and even played TFT a little, but it never replaced AD&D as our game of choice, and we soon discarded it as inadequate for actual role playing. As a nostalgia game, it still holds a place in my heart and collection. I don't think I'm the only one: as recently as August, 2000, I found out somebody is working on TFT rules for Tekumel (see our Tekumel special collection). I'd play Melee and Wizard again at the drop of a hat.

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