I tell you, these games are something else.
Long, long ago I heard rumor of them in the introduction of GURPS. Elements of Melee and Wizard are of course baked into the classic Second Edition GURPS Basic Set and first edition GURPS Fantasy. But strangely enough, the group of high school buddies that went hog wild playing Car Wars and Ogre and Illuminati somehow never went beyond doing anything else beyond creating a few 100 point characters with those gaming materials that were supposed to be Steve Jackson’s magnum opus and the ultimate testament to his design genius.
But now today, thanks to these beautiful editions of Steve’s groundbreaking fantasy microgames, we could finally appreciate his astonishing contribution to the development of fantasy role-playing games. Hoo, boy! What games!! The best thing about them, of course, is that there’s nothing you can do with them except play them. And wow, is it ever easy to dive in.
I will caution people that pick these games up that the fighter cards that I think came with the Legacy Edition are NOT the way to introduce Melee to people. No, the CORRECT way to be initiated into The Fantasy Trip is by creating a figure of your own with no idea what you’re walking into. (Pregens considered harmful!)
My opponent picked a counter out of the stack and decided to run with Rapier Dandy– ST 10, DX 14(13), IQ 8, MA 10, Rapier 1d, Cloth 1 hit. (We later figured out that this figure was a girl. Haha!) Not wanting to throw the weird rules into play at once, I countered with Cave Man– ST 14, DX 10, IQ 8, MA 10, Club 1d. Needless to say, Cave Man got cut to pieces fairly quickly. Rapier Dandy got in a solid hit that gave Cave Man a -2 on his next strike. An 8 or less is not easy to pull off! A followup blow knocked him down into the -3 penalty for low hit points. This was an elegant demonstration of Melee’s death spiral mechanic where once you start losing, things go from bad to worse very fast!
Of course this one on one fight was rather simple– two figures closing to melee range and then trading attacks does not require a hex grid in order to adjudicate. If the whole point of this game is to repudiate the godawful combat systems of classic D&D which have absolutely NO TACTICS involved whatsoever, then this game really needed to step up its game.
So we tried again this time with Rapier Dandy being joined by Archeress “I”: ST 11, DX 13, IQ 8, MA 10, Longbow 1d+2, Short Sword 2d-1. Together they would take on Longsaber Shortie– ST 10, DX 14(12), IQ 8, MA 8, Saber 2d-2, Leather 2 hits– and Knife Girl: ST 11, DX 13(12), IQ 8, MA 10, Saber 2d-2, Main Gauche 1d-1, Cloth 1 hit.
In the opening my pirates ran across the board at maximum move, giving up their melee attacks to close the range. Then… Rapier Dandy managed to not only flank Knife girl but also engage both Knife Girl and Longsaber Shortie by placing them both in her three front hexes.
This meant that rather than engaging the Archeress and forcing her to was tea turn changing weapons, it was Knife Girl that ended up losing an attack while getting ganged up on by both of her opponents. (Doh!) My figures dealt their share of blows, I suppose, but the Melee death spiral soon returned as both my figures bought it. All because of a careless mistake on their positioning in the opening turn. Doh!
Rapier Dandy had now won two arena combats, thus gaining an attribute point to spend. She went up to DX 15, making her even more dandy than she was to begin with.
At this point I suggested we try out Wizard, but after a few minutes of perusing the spell list my opponent countered that we should try running his Melee figures against a mixed team of both a Wizard and a Melee figure. This is not surprising, really. Not even players settling in to a brand new B/X D&D campaign bother reading through the full spell list, much less take the time to think through some kind of spell use strategy. Expecting a new player to do something like that with Wizard over a couple of beers is a really big ask, even for a long time microgame addict.
Therefore I created Knife Girl II out of a desire to get that main gauch into play. I also produced Belboz: ST 10, DX 13, IQ 11, MA 10, Staff 1d6, Blur, Magic Fist, Staff, Avert, Clumsiness, Confusion, Fire, Summon Wolf, Summon Myrmidon, Illusion, and Rope.
Knife Girl II again charged across the board. Belboz hung back and created the illusion of a wolf. The next turn I’d hoped to cast a second spell, but Archeress “I” had a greater DX and went first in the attack face. She hit and did five points of damage! That combined with with the two points I’d spent on the wolf was enough to put me in the -3 to DX zone. The death spiral was rearing its ugly head yet again!
Meanwhile, on the other end of the arena, Knife Girl II got cut down by Rapier Dandy. My wolf bit back and finished off Rapier Dandy. My wolf then flanked Archeress “I” while Belboz played the dodge option. Archeress “I” needed a 12 or less to hit with her bow, and she let fly… mercilessly killing Belbox. The wolf illusion then promptly disappeared, ending the game. Ah, if I could have survived that one attack, the Archeress would have had to change weapons and attack the wolf with her shortsword. Doh!
The moral of the story here is that a good archer has MANY advantages over a wizard character– namely, that archers can make ranged attacks without having to spend strength to do it!
Not quite the outcome I expected. On the other hand, we both immediately began discussing tactics for working around this problem and what we would do differently the next time we played– the hallmark of solid game design! And there will be a next time, too. These games are just too danged charming not to play obsessively!
Besides, Archeress “I” went up a level in DX after that third game and is itching to do it again!