Saturnalia (play-by-mail game)
Saturnalia is a play by mail (PBM) game with a fantasy setting that was first played by students at the University of Southampton before becoming a commercial enterprise in the United Kingdom.
Saturnalia was one of the first single-character sword and sorcery fantasy Play-by-Mail (PBM) role-playing games. The game was created in 1984 by Neil Packer and Simon Letts, shortly after the initial publication of Dungeons & Dragons reached the U.K. The following year, Sloth Enterprises was formed to moderate a commercial version of the game. In an advertisement in the October 1986 issue of Adventurer, Sloth Enterprises claimed that Saturnalia currently had a subscriber base of "over 700 players", and that it was "not only the largest single-player P.B.M. game in the U.K, it's also the fastest growing."
Linda Little commented in the inaugural issue of Games International that Saturnalia and other early fantasy PBMs were based on table-top RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons "in which the norm is to play a single adventurer trying to make his or her way in a pretty harsh world. The worlds in question tended to be low-tech with mythical beasts and various sentient races."
The game is set on the continent of Saturnalia, which has a variety of climates and a large cast of mythical creatures. The rule book recommends that the character should be a follower of one of the fourteen deities — each gives the character some advantages, and allows the character to learn certain types of spells.
The player distributes 250 points amongst combat, magical, vitality, scouting and perception, and then chooses the character's appearance and background. During the game, abilities will rise and fall with use or neglect, and the character's description might also change depending on interaction with others. Each character also starts with a Fame rating of zero, which will rise or fall depending on the character's deeds or crimes.
In the July 1987 edition of Crash, Brendon Kavanagh admitted that "Saturnalia has no really original features — in fact, as fantasy games go, it has little special about it at all." Despite this Kavanagh concluded "Saturnalia is a simple but enjoyable game to play. Sloth Enterprises have run this multi-player game successfully for nearly two years now without any major problems that immediately spring to mind. [...] If you enjoy role-playing games, you may well enjoy Saturnalia."
- Little, Linda (October 1988). "P.B.M.". Games International. No. 1. p. 49.
- Kavanagh, Brett (July 1987). "Play by Mail". Crash. No. 36.
- "Saturnalia". Adventurer. No. 4. October 1986. p. 3.