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Category Archives: Legends of the Ancient World

The Fantasy Trip articles in The Space Gamer #27-31

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for… oh, 1980. The Empire Strikes Back is in theaters. Robin Williams stars in Popeye. Devo is putting some flower pots on their heads and releasing Freedom of Choice. The Alan Parsons Project is releasing The Turn of a Friendly Card which includes “Games People Play” and “Time.” The Police are releasing their third album, which includes “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da.” 

This is the year that Metagaming released The Fantasy Trip— Steve Jackson’s first role playing game. The Space Gamer magazine was in Steve Jackson’s hands at the time and provides a play by play of the game’s initial release, but also of Metagaming’s impending demise. There was a great deal of support for The Fantasy Trip for the first five issues under Steve Jackson’s ownership, but  information for the game all but dried up for a while after that. The next several issues might include a capsule review… and issue 33 has some questions answered by Metagaming staff, but issue 35 has Steve Jackson specifically asking for material for other games besides The Fantasy Trip.

Here is a brief description of each article for The Fantasy Trip from these five issues of The Space Gamer.


The Space Game #27
March-April 1980

  • Where We’re Going — Steve Jackson reports that In the Labyrinth is released: “I’m not overly pleased with the way it was finally produced– neither am I ashamed of it. It is definitely not everything I wanted, but its still (at least) an improvement in the state of the art.”
  • Metagaming Report — Howard Thompson is pretty frustrated about how long it took: ” I’ll never be gladder to get something get done and go out the door. It’s been a hassle for over two years. I’ll never be able to screw up enough courage to play it again. Well, maybe in a few years.”
  • Weapons for Hobbits in the Fantasy Trip — This is a brief, but “official” article that cites the source material in The Lord of the Rings and provides stats. Steve Jackson notes that “Advanced Melee rules make club and knife damage directly dependent on the user’s ST,” which illustrates how Melee was evolving into GURPS at the time.
  • Adding Muskets to Melee — A second “official” article supporting The Fantasy Trip. (This could be the original precursor of the GURPS Malfunction rating for firearms.) The addition of Spanish, Mexicans, and Peruvians is a nice touch.


The Space Gamer #28
May-June 1980

  • Metagaming Report — Howard Thompson asks for design submissions for supplements. “The goal is a continuing mixture of materials that enhance player enjoyment at a low price.”
  • Overmen Do It Better — Forrest Johnson observes that Death Test and Death Test II are so hard, that people will add gargoyles and reptile men from In the Labyrinth to their parties so that they can have a better chance of winning. He the adapts the overman race from Lawrence Watt-Evans’ The Lure of the Basilisk to The Fantasy Trip.
  • A Guide to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Game Publishers — “Metagaming’s The Fantasy Trip is one of the best role-playing systems on the market, though very sloppily presented, lacking an index and even a complete contents page.”


The Space Gamer #29
July, 1980

  • The Temple of Life — This story features character stats in both AD&D and TFT terms, and a new spell as well. The Fantasy Trip characters are entirely described by their three stats and their list of skills, spells, and/or talents.
  • Well, It’s Finally Out: Designer’s Notes for The Fantasy Trip — Steve Jackson says that the genesis for Melee came from D&D being so bad: “The D&D combat rules were confusing and unsatisfying. No tactics. no real movement– you just rolled dice and died.” He provides an extensive three-year timeline covering everything related to the development of The Fantasy Trip and then gives the unofficial Designer’s Errata for In the Labyrinth, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and Tollenkar’s Lair.


The Space Gamer #30
August, 1980

  • Featured Review: High Fantasy — Ronald Pehr describes The Fantasy Trip as having a “rich flavor… whose simple rules allow for numerous ideas and options.” He groups The Fantasy Trip, Boot Hill, and Tunnels and Trolls as being level-less systems in contrast to Dungeons & Dragons, Chivalry & Sorcery, and Bunnies & Burrows.
  • Featured Review: Adventures in Fantasy — “Adventures in Fantasy doesn’t have the stunning wealth of detail in Advanced D&D or Chivalry & Sorcery, the organization and tight background of Runequest, or the clear flow, excitement, and playability of The Fantasy Trip.”


The Space Gamer #31
September, 1980

  • Featured Review: The Fantasy Trip — Ronald Pehr absolutely raves over the game: “It’s stupendous, it’s colossal, it’s the greatest fantasy role playing game on earth!” On the use of maps and figures: “Gone are the disputes between the players and the Game Master in which the former claims the characters were out of position and didn’t have enough time. There is now a graphic, discernable basis for ongoing actions which increases rather than limits the fun.” On the basic tri-stat system: “It allows absorbing, fascinating play, by an elegant system which is easy to use and doesn’t sacrifice too much of the character identification which comes with elaborate sets of basic characteristics that are rolled in other games.”
  • Sam Beowulf — This piece of fiction by famed designer Joseph Miranda includes stats of the main character in terms of The Fantasy Trip, Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, and even War of the Ring!
  • Featured Review: Dragon Quest — “Despite its faults, it still presents a pleasing contrast to the sloppiness of TFT, the illogic of D&D, the incoherence of C&S.”
  • Game Master  — Steve Jackson steps in to answer some questions about the game when Metagaming fails to get back with some “official” answers.
  • Capsule review: Tollenkar’s Lair — “Once the alarm is sounded, the GM will have to keep track of the actions of his characters; they don’t wait in their rooms to be slaughtered.”
  • Letters — In response to a letter writer begging him not to walk away from his “child”, Steve Jackson responds that any future game design work that he does will be under his creative control and will be under circumstances that let him get paid what his time is worth.

For more posts on this topic, see:

Legends, Melee, and GURPS: a Brief Comparison

I’ve had fun playing Legends of the Ancient World with my son, but I wondered what I was missing out on from Melee, so I tracked down the rules. Here’s some of the most significant differences:

  • Legends lacks any sort of rules or guidelines concerning how much stuff you can carry. Armor adjusts dexterity downward regardless of strength in both Legends and Melee. Melee limits figures to carrying two weapons and a dagger. GURPS counts the weight of each item of equipment and adjusts defenses downward, but not attack skills. Strong characters in GURPS can carry more equipment without degrading their defenses.
  • Legends has sides roll initiative once… and then pretty much do an I-go-U-go thing until the end. Melee has players rolling for initiative every single turn– with the winner choosing whether to move first or last. Attacks are then resolved in order of adjusted dexterity. Interestingly, if a melee attack hits, the attacker has the option of forcing the target to retreat backwards one hex. This can cause figures to lose their chance to attack that turn! GURPS eliminates initiative altogether and has figures move and attack in basic speed order– there is no concept of “sides” in GURPS.
  • In Legends you choose between moving, moving and melee attacking, moving and throwing, readying, or standing still and shooting. Melee’s “options” are different depending on whether you figure is “engaged” or not. These are fairly nuanced, but if you can move more than half your MA only if you are do nothing else and are disengaged. A melee charge allows you to move up to half MA and attack. Engaged figures can only shift one hex… and most importantly… can only get their last missile shot off before they have to change to a melee weapon. Legend’s grappling rules are similar to Melee’s hand-to-hand rules. (Melee’s options are clearly similar to the “maneuvers” you can do in GURPS, though GURPS of course has many more.)
  • Facing is completely irrelevant in Legends, but Melee gives a to-hit bonus for attacking your opponents side or rear.
  • Thrown weapons are -1 to-hit per hex of distance. (There are few if any modifiers in Legends.)
  • In Melee, figures that take 5+ points of damage are at a -2 DX penalty on their next turn. Figures that take 8+ points of damage fall down. (In GURPS, these events are the falling down check is influenced by rolls a roll against the Health stat.)
  • Melee has critical success and critical failure effects more or less along the same lines as GURPS.
  • Legends give a single experience point per combat victory. (That’s very similar to Car Wars.) Melee gives varying experience amounts depending on whether you fought a superior opponent and weather the combat was “to the death”, arena, or “practice combat.” GURPS emphasizes role playing, so there you pretty much just get a flat amount per session regardless of your combat awesomeness.
  • Unlike Legends and GURPS, Melee has no skill or talent system. The only way to advance in Melee is by improving your attributes.

(There are more differences, but these are the most significant ones.)

Melee is a surprisingly modern game for its time. Legends of the Ancient world seems to err on the side on simplicity– it makes no attempt to make a perfect set of Melee house rules. (Indeed, Steve Jackson already did that with GURPS.) If Legends added one thing from Melee, it should probably be the concept of a figure being engaged or disengaged. Yes, it’s significantly more complicated, but that (along with the facing modifiers and the larger variety options) would go a long toward giving the game some more tactical flavor. On the other hard, if you’re going to try to pimp it out too much you might as well switch to GURPS, so I can’t fault Dark City Games too  much for their game design choices here.

I am stunned, however, that Melee existed in such a perfect form as early as 1977. If anything, the genius of Steve Jackson is underrated… even by his own fans.

For more posts on this topic, see: