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From The Space Gamer: Designer's Article and Errata for TFT

July 26, 2018


From TSG 29 (July 1980)

Work on The Fantasy Trip has dominated the last three years of my life. It bothers me a little bit to realize that. Would I do it again? Maybe. But not the same way.

It started in early 1977. I had just found out, much to my surprise, that I could design games . . . people were buying Ogre. But the game that I was playing a lot myself was Dungeons & Dragons. And like everyone else who tried an early version of D&D, I wanted to make some changes. The polyhedral dice were irritating – but the biggest problem was combat. The D&D combat rules were confusing and unsatisfying. No tactics, no real movement – you just rolled dice and died. T&T was the same way. Monsters! Monsters! was more detailed in some ways, but still allowed no tactics.

So I did something about it. My original idea was to design a game that would accurately simulate medieval sword-and-shield combat. It would have to be simple and fast, and FEEL accurate. So Melee was born. It was very simple, as fantasy games go. Instead of six attributes, it used only two: strength and dexterity. Movement was very simple, and combat was handled by “options” which allowed a variety of different actions. When I designed Melee, I wasn’t going for anything but a quick, somewhat realistic game that could be played by itself or used to fight battles in a roleplaying adventure.

It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that the Melee system could be the basis for a whole new roleplaying game. Metagaming was very interested in getting in on the fantasy roleplaying boom . . . so work began, even before Melee was completed, on a set of roleplaying rules. The original name for the whole system was to be Sword and Sorcery. Unfortunately, SPI used that one first. The second choice was The Fantasy Trip.

The first mention of TFT came in TSG 10. “Where We’re Going” plugged the upcoming Melee, and mentioned that it was part of Metagaming’s upcoming RPG, In The Labyrinth. But it would be a long time before ITL saw the light of day . . .

March 1977: I finished researching and playtesting Melee.

May 1977: I finished the graphics and typesetting for Melee, pasted up the Liz Danforth counter and cover art, and handed them over to Howard at Metagaming for printing. (Back in the good old days, I didn’t just design the games I did for Metagaming. I got to do the whole thing. Design . . . edit . . . playtest . . . set type . . . map and counter graphics . . . charts and tables . . . pasteup . . . proofreading . . . everything. I handled production work for my early games right up until they went to the printer. I even designed and laid out the advertising. Every designer should be so lucky! That’s part of the reason I once enjoyed game design more than I have lately. It’s great to have total control over the quality of your creation, every step of the way.)

July 1977: Metagaming printed up an extra 4,000 copies of Melee. It was selling! I was busy with Wizard. Adding one more attribute – intelligence – com­pleted the character system. With combat already written up, and the magic from Wizard, I thought I was halfway there. Just write the rules for game-mastering and presto! An FRP system. Well, it sounded easy.

September 1977: TSG 13 mentioned TFT. For the first time, an estimated availability date (late February) was given.

December 1977: Wizard went to press – a press run of 30,000 copies. It was the fanciest Microgame that Metagaming ever produced: extra-large map, extra-long rulebook, and two counter sheets. (Subsequent editions had only one counter sheet.) Like Melee before it, it became immediately popular, rating high on both SPI and Metagaming surveys.

January 1978: The TFT schedule was altered again; it was now to be available “probably before June.” At this point I was suffering from the worst case of writer’s block that I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, it only hurt ITL. I could and did work on other games, including the solitaire Death Test. But I was getting almost nothing accomplished on TFT:ITL.

March 1978: Death Test went to press. I knew we had a good system when DT was finished. You can not write clear, short solitaire scenarios for a roleplaying game unless the original rules are clear and coherent.

May 1978: TSG said TFT:ITL might be out by Origins. I, personally, was merely shooting for a finished rules draft before I left for the World SF Convention in Phoenix – that being Labor Day. I didn’t make it.

September 1978: TSG announced that "work is progressing." It really was, but slowly. I was over the block, but now I had another problem. I was dealing with a truly massive pile of material, and I wanted to make it all fit together. It had to be "just right." I have a tendency toward monomaniacal perfectionism, and the tendency was strong right then.

Early 1979: I delivered the last rules draft (we thought) to Metagaming. It was better than 300 typewritten pages. TSG announced that publication would be in one of two forms: a “stripped” $20 game or a “Cadillac” $30 game. Most of the feedback on that was emphatically in favor of the $20 version.

Mid-1979: Correspondence with Draper Kauffman, a gamer in St. Louis, turned up some problems with the economics in TFT. That’s my weak point; it seems to be one of Draper’s strong ones. He pointed out some problems and loopholes in the sections on jobs and magic items. He also told me how I could fix them . . . and I did, gratefully. (Thanks again, Draper!)

Labor Day, 1979: l was at NorthAmericon in Louisville, trying to relax. In my spare moments, I would occasionally gaze at my briefcase and grin mindlessly. It contained a completely typeset copy of TFT:ITL. A little proofreading was all it needed . . .

Late 1979: Proofreading of the typeset copy was completed. A lot of corrections and changes were still needed – including some more on the economics. (Draper was still at work.) Howard was less than enthusiastic about the corrections. This I could understand; he had been waiting a long time for the game. My own feeling was that, after two years, another week was a good investment if it improved the finished product. I did the typesetting for the corrections myself, and turned the original rule draft, typeset copy, and corrections over to Howard. Ben Ostrander was in charge of the final pasteup and graphics. I was confident he’d do a good job.

Right about that point (say, Christmas of 1979), I was probably as happy as I’ve been since Ogre first appeared. After nearly three years, I was finished with ITL, and it would be out shortly. Plans called for it to be in boxed format, selling for $20. And for that $20, the buyer would get a lot. The box itself (with a beautiful painting by Roger Stine); 140 pages of rules; hundreds of die-cut counters; four full-color labyrinth maps; light cardboard melee megahexes; master sheets for character records and mapping; a GM’s shield with charts and tables; and even three dice. I knew it would be a winner; I knew people would play it; I knew they’d enjoy it. I was happy.

Early 1980: A couple of disappointments. The game will still be published, but there are two problems.

The first: The boxed game will not be published – not now, at least. Howard felt it would be too expensive and might not sell well. Instead, the rules would appear in four separate books. In the Labyrinth, Advanced Melee, and Advanced Wizard would sell for $5 each, while Tollenkar’s Lair ( the “stocked labyrinth” and adventure) would sell for $3. All of these would be booklets only; those components which could not be printed in the books would be omitted. No counters or ref shield; no color maps (after Ben had worked so hard on them). Too bad. But I could see his point. Probably, from a sales viewpoint, four little books that add up to $18 are better than one big box at $20.

The second: Howard informs me he’s changing his procedures. I don’t get to look at page proofs before the booklets are printed. I’d been expecting a last chance to catch problems; I feel I owe it to the people who buy my designs. That’s the reason for the Designer’s Errata, below.

March 1980 (give or take a few weeks): The four booklets came back from the printers. There weren’t too many errors – but there were some. (See the Designer’s Errata, below). On the whole, feedback has been favorable. Two new MicroQuests are typeset and awaiting publication. (I forgot to mention those in the chronology. They’re both solitaire adventures. Death Test II is my own design, created during 1979. Grailquest, by Guy McLimore, is a Knights of the Round Table scenario.)

May 1980: I concluded an agreement with Howard Thompson, whereby Metagaming gained all my remaining copyrights to the TFT material.

As Things Stand Now . . .

I’ve gotten a number of questions recently about my own opinions, future plans, etc., concerning TFT. Some of those questions, with answers:

How do I feel about TFT now? I still think it’s a good game – one of the best on the market. There’s always room for improvement. I no longer have any say in how TFT will evolve, but I’ll watch with interest.

Will I design future TFT games? Unlikely. One supplement that I designed, and several that I edited, are at Metagaming now and may eventually be published.

There is dispute over the status of another supplement originally designed for TFT. I have literally reams of notes that were intended for later TFT games or supplements. If these ever are used, they will probably appear in a generalized form, suitable for any fantasy system.

Will color maps and counters for TFT ever be published? I don’t know. That is up to Metagaming.

Am I earning a royalty on TFT material? Not any longer. The copyrights on Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, In The Labyrinth, Advanced Wizard, and Tollenkar’s Lair are now owned by Metagaming. Metagaming has applied for a trademark on the name “The Fantasy Trip.”

Do I run my own TFT campaign? Not any longer. I haven’t played for six months or so. Right now I’m a little burned out on TFT, and I’m very busy with TSG and several new game designs. But I’m keeping my notes. One day I may get back into it. Right now, the Friday night TSG play sessions are busy with other games.

Errata

Here follows the product of some two months’ perusal of the four new TFT booklets as they were finally published. I would like to thank the many gamers who wrote to me with questions and comments; many of you caught things that I missed.

These are the “Designer’s Errata” to the first editions – my own opinions about what should be changed in the four books for better clarity and playability. These are not "official" – I no longer own the game copyrights – but they are published with the express permission of Metagaming. For each change, I have noted whether the original problem was an apparent pasteup error, an apparent error in my original draft, or simply a clarification of the rules as printed. I understand that Metagaming is working on revisions to the TFT system; l hope this material will be of use in that project. And until then, I hope it adds to your enjoyment of the game. That’s what this whole business is about.

IN THE LABYRINTH

Page 2. Index. Comment: The index is all right as far as it goes, but could have been more useful had it been more comprehensive.

Page 6. A correction for WOODSMAN was pasted at the end of GADGETEER. Just delete the last four lines under GADGETEER.

Page 7. Omitted word. Should read “WIZARDLY THIEF. He’ll have a high DX, and a few thievish talents . . . “

Page 8. Under DEXTERITY, reference is made to a table of DX adjustments. This table was to have appeared on the referee shield. It is not included in any of the present booklets. Players may wish to compile their own.

Page 12. A paragraph appears to have been onitted from the SWIMMING talent. Should read "General swimming ability. This talent also increases your chances of surviving a fall into water, even in armor. If you fall into water make a saving roll vs. adjDX: 4 dice for a non­swimmer, 2 for a swimmer. A figure with the Diving talent (see below) succeeds automatically."

Page 13. Typo. Fencing talent, last line, should read “you do double damage on any "to hit " roll of 7, 6, or 5 . . .”

Page 13. Business Sense talent (clarification): A figure with this talent cannot swindle another figure who also has the Business Sense ability. Note that almost all merchants have Business Sense.

Page 14. Inconsistency (my fault!) Line 3 of the Thief talent should read “This skill is of less use against magically locked doors (see DOORS, pp. 44-45) . . .”

Page 16. Clarification (this is supposed to be under Talents, but I can’t find it. Possibly I omitted it from the final draft.) “It takes a minimum of 3 months of study to add a talent requiring 1 IQ point. A 2-point talent takes 6 months, a 3-point talent 9 months. These times double for wizards.”

Page 19. Clarification: Last line should refer the reader to GUNPOWDER WEAPONS in Advanced Melee.

Page 21. “Mapping and Map Making” suggests that GMs take the time to color the labyrinth maps with colored pencils. I would say that this is absolutely necessary.

Page 21. “Narrow Tunnel.” Clarification: Note that a multi-hex creature could travel through a 1-hex tunnel, if it is only 1 hex wide itself.

Page 25. JOBS. Clarification: Magic items (except Charms) do not help on the job-risk roll. Omission (may have resulted from my own error – whatever the source, it’s important to play balance): should read “. . . give him enough experience points to raise one attribute, or 1,000 experience points, whichever is less.”

Page 30. Thieves’ Guild: It takes a minimum of 6 months to learn DETECT TRAPS, 3 for REMOVE TRAPS – not the other way around. My mistake. Clarification: You pay no extra fee to learn the Thief or Master Thief talents, but you must be a member in good standing (whatever that is) of the local underworld during the time you are “studying.”

Page 37. Reaction Rolls. Omission – fairly important. The modifiers to a reaction roll cannot give a character or party better than a +3 bonus. Nobody is so charismatic that they make friends every time.

Page 38. There is no table of saving rolls; that, too, would have been on the GM shield. Players may wish to compile their own.

Page 50. Counter shapes – front, side, and rear hexes – for several types of counters are mentioned, but not shown, in this section. Some appear in Advanced Melee/Advanced Wizard. Others are not given anywhere. Some of the useful ones (see diagram):

Page 54. WRAITHS – clarification. For an explanation of “insubstantiality,” see the spell of the same name in Advanced Wizard.

Page 60. Apparent pasteup problem. The last paragraph under OTHER MAMMALS is a duplicate of an earlier paragraph; delete it. The next-to-last paragraph refers to the section on HORSES and should be the last paragraph in that section.

Page 63. Hymenopteran workers can carry 250+ kg – not 500. My mistake – I was thinking in pounds.

Page 66. Clarification: Slimes are vulnerable to all kinds of combat magic, though they cannot sense illusions. They die if exposed to daylight, which is why they are normally found only underground.

Pages 71 and 73. Colored pencils will make these maps more readable.

ADVANCED MELEE

Page 1. Unfortunately, there is no index.

Page 4. As noted above, there is no table of DX adjustments.

Page 10. Omission. The fifth line in the second column should read “. . . half-destroyed armor can be repaired for somewhat less than the cost of new gear.”

Page 12. The notes to the ARMOR AND SHIELDS table should include a reference to Advanced Wizard, “Iron, Silver, and Magic,” to explain the DX penalty here.

Page 15. PINNING A FOE. I assume that the note "for Greeks only" was intended as a witticism. It was added after the manuscript left my hands. Nevertheless, I apologize to anyone else who was offended.

Page 18. Clarification: In REACTION TO INJURY, a figure that takes 8 or more hits one turn, and is knocked down, could take option I.h, crawling, rather than standing up or remaining prone.

Page 20. AUTOMATIC HITS. Second to last line should read “ ‘to hit’ roll when he feels it’s necessary . . . “

Page 21. Pasteup error. A correction line has been put in the wrong place, making the next-to-last paragraph of COMBAT WITH BARE HANDS very confusing. It should read something like this, starting with the fourth line: “. . . fighter does 1d-2 damage. A fighter with an UNARMED COMBAT talent does extra damage when fighting bare-handed: one extra hit for UC I, 2 for UC II, 3 for UC III and above. See TALENTS in ITL.”

Page 23. Clarification. A torch will stay lit if you drop it intentionally, but will go out if you drop it because you rolled 17.

Page 24. Clarification. The blunderbuss affects a triangular area 15 hexes in size. Its apex is the hex the blunderbuss is pointed into, adjacent to the user. The blunderbuss hits that hex, two in the next line, three in the next, four in the next, and five in the fifth.

Page 26. SWEEPING BLOWS. Clarification: The attacker rolls separately for each figure being attacked. All rolls are made at the time of the lowest adjDX applicable to any of them.

Page 27. Line 3 should read “. . . Example of Play, given in Section IV-B of ITL.”

Page 27. There seems to be a paragraph missing. It basically explained the fact that Melio was jabbing with the javelin, which is too short to jab with. Melio is a sneaky character. He had previously told the GM that he would make jab-attacks with the javelin whenever possible, in hopes that he could appear to be engaging in real combat without the other characters realizing that he was in no danger! Had he rolled a hit, it would have had no effect.

ADVANCED WIZARD

Page 1. Not only can this game not be used by itself; it requires some familiarity with Advanced Melee if it is to be used with TFT: ITL.

Page 1. Again, an index would have helped.

Page 9, second-to-last paragraph. Clarification: “cannot use another wish to insure a roll of 3 or 4.”

Page 10, starting from the top: pasteup problem. Should read: “of the failed IQ rolls, it wouldn’t work. He would lose the wish to no effect.

Pentagrams will not protect the wizard in this battle of wills – though a good pentagram would prevent the wizard from smashing anything else . . .”

Page 12. Clarification: A “good hard Magic Fist” might be 4 hits or more.

Page 14. The last sentence of the LIGHTNING spell is inconsistent with DESTRUCTION OF MAGIC ITEMS on p. 38. I suspect I failed to correct this problem before turning in the final copy, though I remember noticing it. At any rate, delete the last sentence of LIGHTNING. P. 38 is correct.

Page 15. A paragraph is missing from the EXPLOSIVE GEM spell. I cannot say for sure what was there originally. The following rules will be playable:

“The Explosive Gem spell costs 5 ST for every die of damage the gem will do when it detonates – maximum 8 dice damage. Unlike most magic items, a gem may be made instantly if the ST is available. One must begin with a gem worth at least $50. Once a gem is rendered explosive with a given power, it cannot be enchanted again to make it stronger. If this is attempted it will explode with the combined power of both spells.”

Page 16. Clarification: The TRANCE may not be attempted more than twice per day.

Page 26. Clarification: Gold, bronze, etc., weapons may also be carried by a wizard, but edged weapons of such materials will do less damage than silver or steel.

Page 27-28. Put a “B” after Trip, Blur, Slow Movement, Sleep, Freeze, Fireproof, and Stone Flesh. Put an “A” after Detect Life and Detect Enemies (double cost for each additional MH) and a “C” after Drop Weapons (double cost for ST 20+).

Iron Flesh should require $16,000, B, 5 weeks, 450 ST/day, $1,600/week. ST battery (1 point) should require $1,000, B, 2 weeks, 20 ST/day, $40 ci/week (no potion).

Page 29. Two clarifications, courtesy of Draper Kauffman. Footnote B: “Furthermore, some items, like Trip, Sleep, Fireproof, etc., affect only one hex in their basic forms. A basic Trip would not trip a giant; you would need either a triple-powered Trip (3 wizards, or one wizard and 6 weeks) or 3 normal Trip items. If you want to fireproof your horse, you could use a double-power Fireproof item, or two basic items. If you wanted to put a 14-hex dragon to sleep, you could do it with a 14-power Sleep item ($14,000!).”

Footnote C: “The basic Drop Weapon item works on figures with ST less than 20; the 2-power version works on any ST.”

Page 30: My “cost of magical items” example is misleading. It was a calculation of the price the wizards would have charged for their work. However, it was not the “fair market value” of the coronet. Fair market value assumes the wizards worked in the most efficient way – and these did not.

Fair market value would be correctly figured thus: Jeweled coronet: $15,000. Add Telepathy spell: $20,000. Add Iron Flesh, doubled cost: $32,000. Subtotal with two spells: $67,000. Add 20% of this, since Control Person is an “E” spell: $13,400. Add Control Person (quadrupled cost): $40,000. Add Reverse Missiles (octupled cost): another $40,000. Total value: $160,400.

Page 31. Apparent pasteup error. If the “Multiply Enchanted Item” rules is read at the beginning of page 30 the rules are more clear.

Page 34. Some lines have been omitted from the WORD OF COMMAND explanation. Starting with the fourth line from the bottom, try "already unaffected by the Word, merely to tip it over or turn its face to the wall."

Page 38: Usually when an arrow is enchanted, the actual spell is cast only on the arrowhead. Otherwise the spell could be nullified merely by breaking off the arrow shaft.

Page 39. Apparent pasteup error. The last paragraph, “Thrown Spells,” is a duplicate of a paragraph in Advanced Melee, p. 14. The two paragraphs above it, RECOVERING LOST STRENGTH, duplicate paragraphs on p. 25 of that booklet. If it was intended that these rules be repeated (maybe not a bad idea, at least for the ST rules), another location would have been clearer.

TOLLENKAR’S LAIR

The pages of this game were not numbered. I have numbered mine beginning with the first right-hand inside page as 1. This makes the last page (inside back cover) 17.

Page 1. Pasteup error. Delete the line ‘‘OK starting with ‘Beginning characters.’ “ It was apparently intended as a note to the pasteup artist. It has nothing to do with the game.

Page 9. Figure 4-1 could be misleading about the blunderbuss’ effect. Place the blunderbuss in the center hex of megahex B and figure its effective range as given above.

Page 9. Advanced Wizard is also useful for Level 5.

Page 9. Second column should begin “Ten hand-picked killers mount guard here . . .”

Pages 16-17. By all means, use colored pencils on the map.

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To enjoy the complete run of Steve Jackson Games' Space Gamer issues, visit Warehouse 23 to purchase issues #27 to #76 in PDF!

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