Lost Worlds Fantasy Combat Book Game

Earlier this week I wrote a post about vintage ads from the pages of Dragon Magazine. While taking that stroll down memory lane I came across one game in particular that had held a special place in my heart for a brief moment of time.

My original two game books

Designed by Alfred Leonardi and released by Nova Game Designs, Lost Worlds was a fantasy combat book game that debuted in 1983. Leonardi had already had a considerable hit with Ace of Aces, a WWI dogfighting game from 1980. Lost Worlds capitalized on the explosion of interest in fantasy games at the time and delivered a fun little diversion.

The game itself revolved around individual game books, with each game book representing a particular character. The characters themselves ranged from the fairly mundane “Man in Chainmail with Sword and Shield” or “Woman in Scale with Sword and Shield” to the more fantastical like “Skeleton with Scimitar and Shield” or “Giant Goblin with Mace and Shield.”.

Character Sheet

Each book contained a removable character sheet (listing various maneuvers that the character was capable of) depicted the character in various poses. Essentially a dueling game, the idea was that both players would come to the table with their own book and then fight it out until one was victorious.

At the start of play, you would remove your character sheet and then pass the booklet itself to your opponent. As the game commenced, you would turn to a pre-determined page in the book. The picture on the starting page would essentially give you a first-person view of your opponent’s character squaring off and ready to fight.

Looking at your character sheet, you would select the maneuver you wanted to carry out and them flip to the page with the corresponding number. Once both players were ready, they would exchange the number of their maneuvers, consult the matrix at the bottom of the page, and then proceed to the page that they were directed to.

Dragon magazine print ad ~1983.

Every time that you would turn to the results page you would be treated to a view of your opponent. If your attacks happened to land, you might see a damage amount and depending on the circumstances, you might be given specific text to read to your opponent (often limiting his/her actions for the next turn). The game would continue in this manner until one of the combatants lost all their body points and was knocked out of commission. Most fights would resolve in just a few minutes.

Skeleton takes a leg wound.

Early on, most of the game books were based on humanoid combatants of similar power levels. However, as years went on their ranks were joined by more monstrous characters like a unicorn, a drake, and even a manticore.

I played it in my teens, so I can’t provide a great deal of commentary on how balanced the system was. Certainly each book wasn’t of equal strength (but I don’t think you would want them to be). A skeleton fighting a hill troll would be in for a bad time. However, for the most part I seem to recall any two like-sized combatants having a decent chance of winning against the other.

Certainly other bits about the mechanics largely made sense. If I happened to do a wild swing maneuver at the same time that my opponent jumped back, there was a good chance that I would be spun around, leaving my back exposed to my opponent. Things like that were a nice touch and really made it feel like your choices were impacting the outcome of the game.

Here you can see the matrix at the bottom of the page.

I first encountered Lost Worlds at Gen Con in 1983. This was back when it was still being held at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. Nova Game Designs ran a tournament that year for anyone purchasing a game book. Along with your game book you were given a badge depicting the character from the book that you had purchased. You were asked to wear your badge, allowing other convention goers to see you as you wandered the halls. Then, when you saw someone else with a badge, you could challenge them on the spot and fight it out.

Due to the brief play time, Lost Worlds wasn’t really something that a group would sit down and play for hours. However, I remember it fondly as something we would often break out on our regular game day, while we were waiting for the rest of our RPG group to arrive.

I lost track of the development of the game in the late 1980s, as real life started to pull me further away from the hobby. It appears that the game has ha many publishers and occasional resurgences over the years, though it has been ages since I’ve come across any mention of it.

That’s all for now. Did you ever experience these Lost Worlds game books, either back in the day or in a more recent incarnation? Hope you have a good weekend!

Vintage Ads From Dragon Magazine #55

Earlier in the week I was flipping through the pages of some old copies of Dragon magazine. I found that I really enjoyed reminiscing and perusing all of the old advertisements. At any rate, I thought some of you might enjoy taking a peek at these as well.

This batch is from Dragon #55 (November 1981). Perhaps these were before your time or perhaps you remember them better than I do. Either way, I hope you enjoy.

St. Regis Dungeons & Dragons Notebooks & Binders

These were entirely lost from my memory until I saw the ad. St. Regis must have acquired the D&D license from TSR (probably not terribly costly in 1981) and produced a line of notebooks, binders, and folders. I’m getting old but it feels like notebooks, binders, & folders were a bigger deal in the 1980s than they currently are.

I’m not sure how wide of a release these had but I suspect it was fairly minimal. I remember finding them at the bookstore in my Jr. High School and wishing I could buy the lot. As I recall, I ended up buying a folder and calling it a day. You do what you can when you’re 11.

I remember the artwork on all of these as being quite striking and I do not believe I ever saw the artist work on any official TSR products. Apparently these were done by a fellow named Alex Nuckols. If you’re curious to see more, a quick Google search will yield some results. In particular, I’d suggest checking out this post from Scrum in Miniature.

One final note on this one is to notice the mention of “Free 28 sheet pack of gamers graph paper!” Graph paper wasn’t that easy to find in 1981. I’m sure adults managed to track it down. However, to kids my age it was a prized commodity.

Full Page Iron Crown Enterprises Ad

Most products from Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) were out of my reach as a kid. Nobody stocked their line close to me and my meager allowance wouldn’t have been sufficient to delve into their products even if they did.

Since I’d love to hear from someone who knows better than I do, I’m not going to go into a great deal of research here. Instead I’ll stick with my recollection.

Spell Law is the main product advertised here. It was a generic magic system, built to plug into the RPG of your choice. The was preceded by Arms Law (Martial combat) and followed by Claw Law, which I believe dealt with beasts and such.

As I recall, much of this line was eventually rolled together to become Rolemaster, a percentile based fantasy ttrpg. Rolemaster was one of those games that was always around but never end up directly crossing my path. Looks like later iterations of the game are still available on DriveThruRPG.

Their product that I did spend some time with was Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP). At least loosely built on the Rolemaster system, I believe this was the first officially licensed ttrpg based on Tolkien’s works.

Dragonbone

Another item in the “blink and you would miss it” category was Dragonbone. This electronic dice roller was a plastic wand that allowed you to select your desired range (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, or d%). Once you made your selection you would be provided a randomized “roll” via a little red LED.

I will say that when I was 11, I may very well have had some Dragonbone envy. That said, I think they missed the fact that people really dig rolling dice.

I believe I saw them in real life at the Gen Con exhibitor hall, back when the convention was held at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. However, I never saw one at the gaming table.

Closing

That’s all for now. Drop me a comment if I’ve left anything out of if you have a favorite product that’s largely lost to time.

Gaming Conventions

Over the following years, I began to take a special interest in the game convention listings within Dragon magazine. I really had no idea of what a gaming convention consisted of but the concept was appealing to me. My folks were great about encouraging my new hobby and in the spring of 1983, we made the jaunt from Rochester, NY up to St. Catherine’s, Ontario, for the Niagara Gamefest & Computer Show.

Niagara Gamefest & Computer Show

It was the most amazing thing in the world to me. I had played D&D (perhaps AD&D by now) with my neighborhood friends for a few years by this time. However, we were a very isolated group and at times it seemed like we were the only ones out there. This small, weekend convention opened my eyes to how popular this hobby indeed was.

Everywhere I looked, there were new RPGs that I had never even heard of. On top of that were the wargames. I had been familiar with miniatures from the tiny gaming store (Campaign HQ) which existed in downtown Rochester. Despite this, I had never seen anything on the level of the massive miniature armies that were on display at the wargame section of the convention.

1980s Car Wars

Probably more important to me than the sensory overload was the reaction that I received from other (mostly older) gamers. Here I was, a 12-year-old kid, and everybody treated me as an equal. It was the most welcoming environment that I had ever been in.  It didn’t matter whether I was in a Car Wars event with college kids or trying my hand at Napoleonics with guys who were in their 50s, it was all good. I was hooked.

Later that year, we traveled to the grandaddy of them all. Gen Con was held at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside that summer. If my first convention had amazed me, this simply blew my mind. It was everything that I had experienced before, times 10!

The campus was in a rural setting, near Racine, so my folks felt comfortable dropping me off in the morning and then picking me up at then end of the day. I had been late in registering so I only had tickets for a couple of events. It didn’t matter, as the concourse of the of the campus was filled with open gaming events that anyone could play.

Gen Con 1983

I don’t think I had a spare minute the whole time that I was there.  Groups would literally, just huddle up on the floor and break out with a session of some game. People would be playing Ogre just a few feet from a group running Champions, while across the hall, a couple were engaged in Ace of Aces. Again, it didn’t matter that I was just a kid. All I had to do was stand around for a few moments and somebody would be asking me if I’d like to join a game.

The miniatures battles that took place in the wargaming area were immense. The largest of these was a multi-day recreation of one of the crusades. I literally watched for hours, fascinated with the detail of the models and terrain.

The dealer’s room at Gen Con was massive. Games, dice, miniatures, apparel, and every other possibly gaming-related item were on sale. I would just walk from booth to booth and listen to everyone pitch their products. 

Often vendors would have “mini-games” set up to let folks try out their system so this filled a bit of time as well. I was lucky enough to meet Mark Acres & Tracy Hickman, while playing a demo for GangbustersMark had helped design the game and Tracy would go on to co-author the successful Dragonlance series.

I have very fond memories of my first gaming conventions. I returned to Gen Con the following year and Origins the year after that. Gaming is a hobby which has always had a certain, social stigma attached to it. I’ve always found the shared experience of a large gaming convention to be very refreshing.

I find myself living in Indiana these days. As such, I can often be found roaming the halls at Gen Con in Indianapolis. Things don’t feel quite the same to me but I’m still drawn to return, year after year. Returning to the hobby after so many years, I’m happy to see how diverse things have become.

How about you? If you’re reading this, something caused you to land here. Have you experienced game conventions? If so, which ones? What did you enjoy? Please share in the comments.

My first gaming store

Over the following years, I graduated from that original D&D boxed set to the hardcover AD&D books. I also acquired my first set of polyhedral dice (while they were included in later versions of the boxed set, mine merely came with laminated “chits” which you had to cut out and select randomly).

Photo by Alperen Yazgı on Unsplash

I was loosely aware that there were other products made by TSR Hobbies, because of the ads in the back of some of my rulebooks. As I recall, “Boot Hill”, “Dawn Patrol”, & “Gamma World” were all featured. Despite living in a decent sized city (Rochester, NY), I had never come across any of these products in any of the few bookstores where I had been able to find gaming products.

I am not certain when it opened but at some point in the early 80s, my parents took me to visit “Campaign Headquarters”. It was an actual, dedicated gaming store and was quite eye-opening. I was like a kid in a candy-store, just filled with wonder. Thinking back, it was just a single, dimly-lit room but it was fascinating, nonetheless.

The walls were covered with blister packs of lead miniatures. Most of these were of the historical sort, though I believe there were some Grenadier fantasy miniatures as well. It was clear at that point that there were far more role-playing, and wargaming games than I had ever imagined.

While I certainly could have spent days in the store, my parents were ready to roll shortly after our arrival. I ended up using my allowance to purchase Dragon Magazine #55. It was the first time that I had seen the publication and it was very exciting to me at the time.

How I came to discover role-playing games

I was 7 years old in the fall of 1977.  It had been a big year already, with the release of Star Wars during the past spring. The summer had been spent running around the neighborhood, shooting imaginary Storm Troopers, and debating the fate of Darth Vader.

It was around Thanksgiving when I became aware of a new animated TV Special. The Hobbit was coming to television. Now, for those of you much younger than I, you must understand that the late 70s were a much different time. We had cartoons every Saturday morning, without fail. However, aside from the annual Charlie Brown specials and perhaps Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, animated specials were almost unheard of.

If you are too young to have lived through this, it’s hard to describe just how odd this was to see on network tv.

Rumors had spread through my school like wildfire. The Hobbit was something totally different. Not only was this a new animated special, but it was a story of wizards, dwarves, elves, and even a dragon! Truly, this was something not to be missed.

I’m not sure what I did wrong. Perhaps I had knocked the gravy over and into my Aunt’s lap during Thanksgiving dinner. At any rate, as luck would have it, I found myself quite grounded for the world television premier of The Hobbit.  It was devastating! I was certain that quite possibly; nothing good could come of my life from that day forward. You see, in 1977, there were no DVRs (or VCRs for that matter). As a matter of fact, there was a great likelihood that if you missed a show on TV or even a movie in the theater, that it would be gone forever.

During the following week, I was forced to listen to my young friends tells stories about The Hobbit.  They would go on and on about the goblins, the spiders, and even some strange thing that they referred to as “Gollum”.  I was devastated. Within the span of one year I had been told that I was too young to have a poster of Farrah Fawcett in my bedroom and now I had missed The Hobbit! Things were not looking good.

The versions I grew up with.

Then, a wonderful thing happened. I came home from school one day to find a paperback book lying on my bed.  My parents had purchased me a copy of the novel (truth be told, at 7 years old, I had not even realized that The Hobbit was originally a novel). While it was certainly quite a bit larger than any book I had read thus far, I was intrigued by the maps and “strange writing” which I found just inside the front cover. I set about reading it right away.

I was hooked immediately. Shortly after finishing The Hobbit, I moved on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. By the time that these were all finished, I was clearly a fantasy junkie. I would devour new fantasy novels as fast as they would come.

During the summer of 1979, a strange thing occurred. I bumped into a friend of mine while playing tag in my back yard. He was incredibly excited about something but was having trouble explaining it. Apparently, he had been playing some game, with the older kids who lived on the next road over. He said that it was a game that had Hobbits in it but that it wasn’t a game about The Hobbit.

The whole thing was terribly confusing and made no sense to me at all. When I asked him about the board, he said there was no board. When I asked if there were cards, he said there were no cards. I was a 9 year old skeptic, to say the least. Certainly if a “Hobbit game” or “game that had Hobbits in it” existed, it would have to be listed within the pages of the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog (everything worth having as a 9 year old child was!) It was not.

Then, one day, my friend and I happened to accompany my mother on a trip to Scrantom’s (a local card & stationary store in Rochester, NY). As we were checking out, I saw a curious looking box, sitting behind the counter. The box was adorned with a picture of a large dragon, sitting on a huge pile of treasure. The words “Dungeons & Dragons” were printed across the top of the box.

“That’s it!” yelled my friend, “that’s the game!”

I received that very box for my birthday, that following January. Like a blind man who has never seen, I immediately understood about games without boards.  Indeed, it wasn’t a game about Hobbits, though the Halflings mentioned were certainly similar. It was like nothing I had ever dreamed of. Suddenly, I had the ability to do more than just read fantasy stories; I could create them and watch them unfold before my eyes.  The years to follow were filled with all kinds of great gaming memories.