|Genre(s)||Man to Man combat with medieval weapons|
|System(s)||The Fantasy Trip|
Melee was designed by Steve Jackson, and was originally released in 1977 as MicroGame #3 by Metagaming Concepts.:79 At the time Jackson was getting involved with Dungeons & Dragons, but he found the various-sized dice irritating, and he found the combat rules confusing and unsatisfying, particularly the lack of tactics, so he designed Melee as something different.:79 Jackson had originally joined the Society for Creative Anachronism to gain a more visceral understanding of actual combat, and based Melee on his studies of the SCA.:79
When designing Melee, Jackson saw the possibility to expand it into a full fantasy roleplaying game that could compete with D&D, and thus, even before Melee was released, Metagaming started advertising that full RPG system, The Fantasy Trip.:79 Jackson also put together the game system's magic rules, which were published as Wizard (1978), MicroGame #6.:79
Metagaming published MicroQuest #1, Death Test (1978), which was a short adventure for use with Melee or Wizard.:79 Jackson planned for The Fantasy Trip to be released as a boxed set, but publisher Howard M. Thompson decided that the price was too high and so he split the product into four books: Advanced Melee (1980), which had the combat extensions to the Melee system, Advanced Wizard (1980), which had the magic extensions, In the Labyrinth (1980), which had the Games Master rules, and Tollenkar's Lair (1980), which was a GM adventure.:79–80
Jackson was unhappy with this change and left the company the same year and founded Steve Jackson Games.:80 Metagaming later released Dragons of Underearth (1982), a roleplaying game which was a cut-down version of The Fantasy Trip, primarily based on the original Melee and Wizard rules.:80
Metagaming released a number of small games in plastic bags held closed with cellophane tape. The game came with a blank hex map overlaid with "megahexes" (groupings of 7 standard hexes into larger tesselating shapes for fast range determination), a counter sheet of men and monsters, and a 16-page rulebook.
After Metagaming went out of business, Steve Jackson's GURPS borrowed heavily from his first role-playing rule set The Fantasy Trip, with a similar minimal set of primary attributes to determine in-game results: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence (which had been added in Wizard), and a new ability, Health (which was added to address shortcomings in the original damage system).
Melee was an arena combat game where each player generated a character by purchasing Strength, Dexterity and equipment as part of a point-based character creation system, and then these characters fought via a tactical combat system that used six-sided dice.:79
Every figure had a strength and dexterity attribute. Strength governed the size of weapons used, with higher strength weapons allowing an increase to the damage one inflicted in combat, and also served as "hit points," dictating how much damage one could take. Dexterity determined how likely one was to hit one's opponent. The two attributes totaled to 24 for a beginning figure. In addition, each figure had a Movement Allowance, or MA, that indicated how many hexes could be moved in a turn on the map. Armor could be worn, which would reduce the amount of damage taken in combat while lowering one's dexterity and MA.
Each attack, whether missile or melee, is governed by throwing three six sided dice (four dice, if the opponent dodged or defended). If the total rolled is equal or less than the attacking figure's adjusted dexterity score (adjustments included penalties for wearing armor and effects of wounds) then a hit is scored. Each weapon has a wounding capability, throwing one or more dice with some adjustments. For example, a dagger does 1 die minus 1 point (for a damage range of 0 to 5), while a battle axe does 3 dice of damage. This damage is then adjusted by any protection (armor and shields) employed by the opponent. For example, chain mail stops 3 hits of damage; if a battle axe struck this figure and the score rolled was 9, the figure would only take 6 damage because of the armor. Wounds can affect a figure either by giving a temporary or permanent (until healed, at least) penalty to dexterity, or single powerful blows can knock a figure down.
A figure that wins a fight gains experience points; when enough points are gained they can be traded in for additional attribute points, allowing a figure to advance in power.
Advanced Melee was tied more closely to In the Labyrinth, and featured more combat options, such as called shots, additional weapons, and greater detail in general. Also, IQ (introduced in Wizard) becomes important for allowing a figure to use combat relevant talents, such as Fencing, Two Weapons Combat, and so forth, making figures more varied.
David Ritchie reviewed Melee in Ares Magazine #1, rating it a 7 out of 9. Ritchie commented that "Clean, fast and deadly. Combats can be resolved between individual characters in 5 to 15 minutes. Simple, but not simple-minded."
According to Shannon Appelcline, in his book Designers & Dragons, "The tactical combat of Melee worked because it was also very playable; it was simple, yet allowed for thoughtful play, all without paging through charts and tables.":79