Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Getting Started

A recent blog entry about the Basic Fantasy RPG got me to thinking about where I really started with gaming and miniatures. In 1977 Rankin/Bass (the Rudolph and Frosty guys) released the Hobbit animated movie. The same year Ralph Bakshi released the animated movie Wizards. This set up a movie release of epic proportions that many thought would dwarf Star Wars. In 1978 Ralph Bakshi was set to release the animated version of  The Lord of The Rings. The film was going to feature unbelievable animated sequences along with rotoscoped animation to assist with the creation of the battle sequences. The film was at best a mild success and covered a little less of half the trilogy.

In 1978 video games existed but they were an expensive toy that not everyone could afford. I was an avid comic fan and I liked to read fantasy and science fiction. One day in the summer of 1978 a friend and I were at the downtown location of Lazarus, a regional department store in the area. We decided to visit the 6th floor (toys) to see if they had video games set up to play. They did not have video games but there was a display that floored me. There was a large table probably about eight feet wide by twelve feet long covered in armies. The Battle of Five Armies from the Hobbit was depicted on the table. There were hundreds of painted 25 MM figures on rail road style terrain and a large figure of Smaug for good measure. This was a display for a new licensed miniatures line from a company called Heritage Miniatures who was promoting the upcoming Lord of the Rings movie.

Heritage was well ahead of their time. They had aggressively licensed multiple properties for lines of miniatures and rules to create battles from these properties. The properties included John Carter, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. This was a jaw dropping discovery. These small metal statues that could be painted to look exactly like the real thing and rules to govern play. Wow. Sign me up!  I didn't have a lot of money that day but I walked out of the store with a package of hobbits, the hobbit companions, Frodo and Golum, a green martian warrior, and John Carter and Deja Thoris.

I took them home and painted many of them using acrylic paints I had leftover from other projects. I knew nothing about how they should be painted but just a general idea based on my imagination from reading the books. I now owned my first fantasy miniatures but no rules to go along with them. I had always enjoyed board games and recently we had played a lot of Risk but for now I didn't know exactly how to play these games.

On the blister packs of the miniatures I had purchased was an address for requesting a catalog. So, off went my fifty cents and I awaited my catalog. When it arrived I poured over the lists of miniatures that were availible and plotted out what rule set I would attempt to acquire. Then while going through a normal every day Sears catalog I discovered the licensed SPI War of the Ring board game. I received it as a gift for Christmas that year and spent the next four months convincing people to play the character version of the game (the simplest version). The joy of watching Aragorn equipped with both the Sword that was Broken and the One Ring kill the Witch King and all the Nazgul was amazing. Good times but still no miniatures.

Now early in 1979 I started talking to a classmate about gaming. He revealed that he had played a new type of game called Dungeons and Dragons. I had seen the game available in mail-order catalogs but until now I had never met anyone who had played it. I pushed and pleaded until finally I got invited to a game. The game was starting on Friday night at about 7:00 PM. I didn't know what this game would be like but I was sure I would like it. I got there early and started creating my first character. Now I was the creator! Then I got to see the crazy, wonderful dice. They were chipping and hard to read, nothing like the dice of today but I thought they were the coolest things I had ever seen. The best part for me came when we organized the party for travel and formed a marching order...using unpainted lead miniatures! Now I was sure, this was for me.

Within a few weeks of this first game I learned that there was a local wargames store called "The Soldier Shop". The place was fantastic. I walked out with my very own set of polyhedral dice and two relatively new books. The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual and the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook... and a wizard miniature. I was also able to sign up for a fantasy miniatures battle* the very next week in the shop. In the days before the internet it took about a year from first encounter with miniatures to actually playing in a fantasy battle containing hundreds of miniatures. 

Notes: More information about all the things I mentioned this time.

Wizards: I loved this movie. The second link is the full movie on youtube.

The Hobbit: I still love this today.

LOTR: This movie was ok but it followed the books more closely than the more recent trilogy.

Heritage Miniatures: The company is long gone. Many of their sculpts were done by a gentleman named Siegfried...also known as Duke Siegfried. Duke was a huge advocate of the hobby before he died. I met and thanked him just before he quit traveling a few years back.

TSR Hobbies: A garage company that changed gaming.

Wizard Mini: a very early paint job for me.

*The battle was played out using a blend of traditional fantasy races (Lord of the Rings, etc) and races from a game called Empire of the Petal Throne from the mind of  M.A.R. Barker. The rules were mostly home brewed with a dash of Dungeons and Dragons and a little Chainmail.

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