The Fantasy Trip
Steve Jackson Games
|Years active||1977 to 1983|
2019 to date
|Genre(s)||Generic Fantasy Role-Playing Game|
|System(s)||The Fantasy Trip|
TFT was developed from Metagaming's tactical combat MicroGames Melee and Wizard, also designed by Jackson, which provided the basic combat and magic rules. These games could be played on their own, or, using the gamemaster's module In the Labyrinth, expanded into a full-fledged role-playing game. The basic combat and magic rules presented in Melee and Wizard were greatly expanded for purposes of role-playing in Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard. TFT was the first published role-playing game to use a point-buy system for character generation, instead of the random dice roll method routinely used in the 1970s.
Metagaming also published a total of eight "MicroQuests" adventures for The Fantasy Trip. These inexpensive adventures allowed for group or solitary play. More traditional RPG modules were also released, including Tollenkar's Lair, a traditional dungeon crawl adventure published in 1980, and Warrior Lords of Darok and Forest Lords of Dihad, published in 1982 for The Land Beyond the Mountains campaign setting in partnership with Gamelords. The Thieves' World licensed campaign setting, published by Chaosium in 1981, also included character statistics and notes for use with TFT.
In 1988, Hobby Japan released a Japanese-language edition of TFT under the name Phantom Unicorn Quest (幻のユニコーンクエスト, Maboroshi no Yuniko-Nkuesuto). It combined in a single volume the rules from Melee and Wizard along with the MicroQuests Death Test, Death Test 2, Grail Quest, Treasure of the Silver Dragon, and Treasure of Unicorn Gold.
Jackson left Metagaming in 1980. By that time, Howard M. Thompson, the owner of Metagaming, was not happy with the TFT work done by Steve Jackson, stating that it was too complex and had taken too long. To address some of these concerns, Thompson partially revised the TFT mechanics for Dragons of UnderEarth, a compact set of fantasy role-playing rules derived from Melee, Wizard and ITL, with simplified rules for combat and magic, and the related The Lords of UnderEarth mass combat system.
In 1983, Thompson closed down Metagaming and sold most of its assets. Jackson tried to purchase the rights to The Fantasy Trip, but Thompson's asking price of $250,000 was much too high, and TFT went out of print. This led Jackson to begin work on a new "third generation" role-playing system that eventually became GURPS (the Generic Universal Role-Playing System), which was strongly influenced by The Fantasy Trip.
Jackson reclaims TFT
In December 2017, Jackson announced he had exercised an option under U.S. law for an author to unilaterally terminate a grant of publication rights between 35 and 40 years after publication, which allowed him to regain rights to The Fantasy Trip. In July 2018, Steve Jackson Games launched a Kickstarter campaign to reissue Melee, Wizard, and a TFT Legacy Edition boxed set with the expanded In the Labyrinth rules, among other materials. The revived TFT proved a success for Steve Jackson Games, raising more than $450,000 in 2018, and the company has committed to expanding and continued support for TFT.
The Metagaming TFT
Metagaming released Melee in 1977 as MicroGame #3. It was designed to be a simple, fast-playing, man-to-man tactical combat boardgame. The game came with a small empty hex map, a counter sheet of men, monsters, and weapons (for any weapons dropped in combat), as well as a 17-page rulebook. Every figure had a Strength and Dexterity attribute. Strength governed how much damage a figure could take and the size of weapons which could be used; heavier weapons increased the damage one inflicted in combat. Dexterity determined how likely one was to hit one's opponent. Armor could be worn, which would reduce the amount of damage taken in combat while lowering one's Dexterity.
Metagaming released Wizard in 1978 as MicroGame #6, a pocket board game of individual magical combat. Its 32-page rulebook included most of the Melee combat system with the addition of a magic system. Wizard added Intelligence (IQ) as a third attribute that determined magical ability. A player could improve his character by adding points to the character's attribute scores. A high IQ score allowed the use of more varied and powerful spells. Casting a spell would temporarily drain a character's strength score, limiting the number of spells one could cast before requiring rest to regain strength.
In the Labyrinth
Released in 1980 as an 80-page, 81⁄2 × 11 saddle-stitched book, In the Labyrinth: Game Masters' Campaign and Adventure Guide added a role-playing system and fantasy-world background to The Fantasy Trip. Released simultaneously and in the same format were Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard, which greatly expanded and revised the physical and magical combat systems. Character creation, which had been part of the original Melee and Wizard, was incorporated into In the Labyrinth.
The three books together formed the complete Fantasy Trip game system. As in the original MicroGames, each character had Strength, Dexterity and IQ attributes, each calibrated to 10 for an average human. New (human) characters began with 8 points of each trait, with 8 extra points for the player to add to any of the abilities as they desired.
In the Labyrinth introduced a point-buy skill system, an extension and generalization of the magic system inherited from Wizard. Each character had one talent or skill point per point of IQ, and each skill had a skill point cost as well as a minimum IQ to learn it. The range of abilities provided by character classes in a first-generation game like Dungeons & Dragons was replaced with talents. For example, the "Thief" talent would allow a player to roll against his Dexterity to pick a pocket or open a lock. Other talents included standard fantasy skills such as Literacy, Alertness, or Weapon Proficiency. It was possible for a wizard to learn mundane skills and for a hero to learn a spell or two (with great difficulty).
Ronald Pehr reviewed The Fantasy Trip in The Space Gamer No. 31. Pehr commented that "The Fantasy Trip is an excellent FRP game system. I'd have liked it to be better organized and a few dollars cheaper. Those who purchase it anyway will be very glad they did."
- 3103 — Melee
- 3106 — Wizard
- 2102 — In the Labyrinth
- 2103 — Advanced Melee
- 2104 — Advanced Wizard
- 3201 — Death Test (MQ#1)
- 3202 — Death Test 2 (MQ#2)
- 3203 — Grail Quest (MQ#3). A solo adventure set in King Arthur's court, the players were knights searching for the Holy Grail.
- 3204 — Treasure of the Silver Dragon (MQ#4). This solo adventure contained clues to a silver dragon figurine hidden somewhere in the United States. The 31 troy ounce dragon was found by Thomas Davidson, who was awarded with a $10,000 check in addition to the figurine.
- 3205 — Security Station (MQ#5). A dungeon crawl through a high-tech fallout shelter.
- 3206 — Treasure of Unicorn Gold (MQ#6). Identical in concept to Treasure of the Silver Dragon, except the quest was for a small golden unicorn. No prize was awarded before Metagaming folded, and the disposition of the gold unicorn was not announced. See the link below to a website claiming to have nearly solved the mystery of the unicorn's hiding place.
- 3207 — Master of the Amulets (MQ#7). A simple hex-crawl adventure where the player explores a valley and picks up many magical amulets laying about.
- 3208 — Orb Quest (MQ#8)
- 2201 — Tollenkar's Lair
- 2202 — The Warrior Lords of Darok. The first module released in a series called The Land Beyond the Mountains, a full campaign setting designed exclusively for TFT. This detailed the province of Darok, whose inhabitants worship a mean and nasty god of war and fire. This land was to be detailed over the course of several modules, but only this and The Forest Lords of Dihad were released before Metagaming's demise. Planned modules would have detailed the provinces of "Muipoco" and "Soukor", and two or more cities, the provincial capitals. The city modules for the capitals of Darok and Dihad were redesigned and released under other names by Game Lords Ltd.
- 2203(?) — The Forest Lords of Dihad. Published by Gamelords. The last TFT release before the closing of Metagaming. The product number is speculative, as it does not appear anywhere on the module itself.
- 2301 — The Fantasy Master's Codex. Originally called the TFT Yearbook, this was planned to be a supplement that would be updated annually to include rules changes, expansions and new rules interpretations. It was also planned to include variants and expansions submitted by TFT players. Only one was released.
- 2302 — The Fantasy Masters' Screen. A cardboard screen to hide notes and maps from the players, featuring useful reference charts and tables for game play; it was similar in concept to the Dungeon Master's Screen produced by TSR for Dungeons & Dragons.
- 5102 — Dragons of UnderEarth. A compact set of fantasy role-playing rules derived from Melee, Wizard and ITL, with simplified rules for combat and magic.
- 3118 — The Lords of UnderEarth. This was a separate MicroGame of large-scale combat, but was developed to work with TFT as a system for combat involving large numbers of troops. It featured a set of conversions for building units based on TFT characters. It also featured a setting that could be used as a very large dungeon environment.
- Shaylle: Soldier City. Developed by Gamelords for The Land Beyond the Mountains setting, but when Metagaming went out of business the module was rewritten and issued as City of the Sacred Flame for use with the Thieves' Guild rules system. The history section was heavily redone and the main non-player character's names are changed, but many of the area descriptions and the adventures remain essentially unchanged. At least one quest in this module still has the original NPC's name unchanged.
- Intrigue in Plaize. Developed by Gamelords for The Land Beyond the Mountains setting, but when Metagaming went out of business the module was rewritten and issued as Within the Tyrant's Demesne for use with the Thieves' Guild rules system. As with City of the Sacred Flame, the history is rewritten, but many descriptions and references remain largely unchanged.
- Conquerors of UnderEarth. Slated to be an adventure module for use with the Dragons of UnderEarth system. It was never released but had at least progressed to the draft stage. Interplay #8 gave several details, stating that "it deals with Adventurers entering a Goblin fortress and encountering organized military units, and as such often involves 10–20 or more fighters in a battle." Since CUE was fairly streamlined, it lent itself to these sorts of encounters.
Beyond these products, additional supplements were in various stages of playtest, design, and development when Metagaming shuttered. Among these, according to a February 1982 company memo, were High Noon, an old west rules set; In the Name of Justice and Herodium, comic book superheroes rules sets; an adventure, Nosferatu; and a campaign setting, The Inner Sea.
The Steve Jackson Games TFT Legacy Edition
On December 26, 2017, Steve Jackson announced he had re-acquired the rights for the TFT products he authored for Metagaming, specifically Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar's Lair. This was accomplished through the provisions of 17 U.S. Code § 203, which allows authors to reclaim works after 35 years. The process "took well over a year" and "was also not cheap", according to Jackson, but it allowed for the revival of TFT by Steve Jackson Games.
On July 23, 2018, Steve Jackson Games opened a Kickstarter campaign for The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition including updated versions of all the works reclaimed from Metagaming; the new version of In the Labyrinth incorporated Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard, as originally envisioned by Jackson. The Kickstarter campaign was funded the same day. The game was released for retail sale on April 17, 2019.
Subsequently, Steve Jackson Games has kickstarted a group of TFT accessories, Decks of Destiny, as well as a new TFT zine, Hexagram. Additional supporting materials, including adventures, solo/programmed adventures, Quick Quests, and beastiaries are also planned. The company also announced a licensing structure allowing other companies to produce material for TFT; the first such licensed project was a series of five adventures published by Gaming Ballistic in 2019.
- SJG3450 — The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition. A boxed set with In the Labyrinth, the Melee and Wizard mini-games, Death Test & Death Test 2 solo adventures, the Tollenkar's Lair module, a GM's screen, and additional supplies.
- SJG3452 — Melee
- SJG3453 — Wizard
- SJG3454 — Death Test & Death Test 2
- SJG3455 — In the Labyrinth
- SJG3458 — The Fantasy Trip Companion. A collection of articles from The Space Gamer and other sources from the 1980s.
- SJG3460 — The Fantasy Trip: Melee & Wizard Pocket Box. A 1980s style reprint with a locking plastic box.
- SJG3462 — The Fantasy Trip Adventures. A collection of five adventures: "The Chaos Triads", "The Curse of Katiki-Mu", "Fire in the Temple", "The Clockwork Tower", and "Tomb of the Wizard-King."
- SJG3464 — Decks of Destiny. A boxed set with a variety of card decks with adversaries, creatures, rumors, treasures, and labyrinth sections for solo or gamemastered play.
- SJG3469 — The Fantasy Trip Outdoor Adventure Cards. A deck of cards with random adventures.
- SJG3477 — The Book of Unlife. Bestiary of the undead. (April 2020 Kickstarter)
- SJG3480 — Red Crypt. A solo/programmed adventure. (April 2020 Kickstarter)
- SJG3481 — Labyrinth Planner
- SJG3482 — Deluxe Character Journal
- SJG3483 — The Fantasy Trip: The Infinite Arena. A deck of battle and hazard cards for quick fantasy combat scenarios.
- SJG3485 — Ardonirane. City sourcebook. (July 2020 Kickstarter)
- SJG3489 — The Fantasy Trip 2019 Postcard Contest. Compilation of 40 short dungeon encounters.
- SJG3601 — Tipping the Scales: Quick Quest #1. (December 2020 Kickstarter)
- SJG TBD — Old School Monsters. Bestiary of monsters from the earliest days of RPGs. (December 2020 Kickstarter Add-On)
- SJG TBD — The Fantasy Trip Adventures 2. A collection of five more adventures: "Old School Adventures," "Darkness," "The Paradise Vault," "The Shining Tower," and "Amazons of the Sky Turtle." (December 2020 Kickstarter Add-On)
- SJG TBD — TFT Bestiary (announced)
- SJG TBD — The Fantasy Trip Companion 2. A collection of articles from Lester W. Smith's The Fantasy Forum and other sources from the 1980s. (announced)
- GBL0011 — Ironskull Castle
- GBL0012 — Citadel of Ice
- GBL0013 — Curse of the Pirate King
- GBL0014 — The Crown of Eternity
- GBL0015 — Vampire Hunter Belladonna. A solo/programmed adventure.
- GBL0036 — Character Collection 1: Experienced Adventurers. A short collection of NPCs.
- GBL TBD — Roc of Sages (May 2020 Kickstarter)
- GBL TBD — Catacombs of Living Death (May 2020 Kickstarter)
- GBL TBD — The Sunken Library (May 2020 Kickstarter)
- GBL TBD — Dragon Hunt!. A solo/programmed adventure. (May 2020 Kickstarter)
- GBL TBD — Dark Lord's Doom. A solo/programmed adventure. (May 2020 Kickstarter)
- GBL TBD — Character Collection 2: Rookies (announced)
- GBL TBD — Character Collection 3: Bandits and Outlaws (announced)
Fan activity and retro-clones
At least three different fanzines dedicated to The Fantasy Trip were published in support of the original Metagaming version of game. Lester W. Smith's The Fantasy Forum ran from 1987 to 1992 with a total of ten issues. Inept Adept and Goblin Keep published two issues each. A fourth fanzine, Vindicator, was devoted to MicroGames in general but did include some material specific to TFT. Vindicator published at least 14 issues from 1995 to 1998. A number of tribute and fan websites preserved and expanded TFT over the years, including a long-running E-mail discussion list archived at tft.brainiac.com.
At least two game companies have developed material inspired by and largely compatible with TFT, similar to retroclone games. Dark City Games has offered "MicroQuest"-style programed adventures since 2005 for its Heroes of the Ancient World system, as well as TFT-compatible rules and adventures for wild west and science-fiction genres. Heroes & Other Worlds similarly builds on TFT, albeit with greater deviation from the original rules.
- "The GuildMaster Speaks". Thieves' Guild (7): ii. 1982.
- "The Japanese Tabletop RPG Collector's List". Athenopolis.net. 9 February 2020. Retrieved 25 October 2020.
- Letter to Andy Windes from Howard Thompson, http://micro.brainiac.com/htletter.jpg, http://micro.brainiac.com/htletter.txt, 31 March 1980
- "Where We're Going" by Steve Jackson, page 28, The Space Gamer, Number 65, Sept/Oct 1983.
- Appelcline, Shannon. "The RPGnet Interview #72, Steve Jackson, The Fantasy Trip". RPGnet. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- Conley, Rob (23 July 2018). "The Fantasy Trip Kickstarter is live". Bat in the Attic. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
- Steve Jackson Games (23 July 2018). "THE FANTASY TRIP – Old-School Roleplaying!". Kickstarter. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
- Reed, Phil. "Report to the Stakeholders for 2019". Retrieved 17 February 2020.
- Pehr, Ronald (September 1980). "Featured Review: The Fantasy Trip". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (31): 18–19.
- Hendryx, Kevin (February 1982). "Status Report--Product Development". Microgame HQ Archives. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- Jackson, Steve (26 December 2017). "Daily Illuminator: The Fantasy Trip Returns Home". www.sjgames.com. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
- Jackson, Steve (26 December 2017). "December 26, 2017: The Fantasy Trip Returns Home". forums.sjgames.com. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
- "17 U.S. Code § 203 — Termination of transfers and licenses granted by the author". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
- Jackson, Steve (28 July 2018). "[AMA] Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games". forum.rpg.net.
- Philip Reed (23 July 2018). "Funded!!!". Kickstarter. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
- Reed, Philip (17 April 2019). "April 17 In Stores". thefantasytrip.game. Steve Jackson Games. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
- Reed, Philip (14 May 2019). "Decks of Destiny Project Update". thefantasytrip.game. Steve Jackson Games. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
- Jackson, Steve (20 April 2020). "TFT Status Report". thefantasytrip.game. Steve Jackson Games. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
- Cole, Douglas (8 May 2019). "Four Perilous Journeys: New Adventures for The Fantasy Trip LIVE on Kickstarter". gamingballistic.com. Gaming Ballistic LLC. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
- SJ Game's official game website
- Designers' Notes and Errata for The Fantasy Trip by Steve Jackson, 1980
Reviews on RPGnet:
- The Fantasy Trip: Melee — Playtest Review, by Travis Casey on 2002-07-15
- The Fantasy Trip: Wizard — Playtest Review, by Travis Casey on 2002-08-03
- The Fantasy Trip: In The Labyrinth — Capsule Review, by John Laviolette on 2002-05-20
- The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth — Playtest Review, by Travis Casey on 2002-08-18
- Melee and Wizard at BoardGameGeek
- The Museum of Role-Playing Games -- The Fantasy Trip (TFT)
- Treasure of Unicorn Gold Solution? A seeker's tale.
- Complete list of all official rulebooks, adventures and accessories from The Fantasy Trip